London, Shepherd’s Bush Empire
There’s a moment tonight when time seems to stand still. We Are Augustines, a New York band riding on the crest of debut album Rise Ye Sunken Ships, are facing a sold-out venue holding 2,000 people – scarcely a year on from when they were playing pokey little pubs in Camden (and being introduced onstage by yours truly – dark times indeed). Frontman Billy McCarthy is mid-chorus during Book Of James – a very personal tribute to his departed brother – when the entire audience overtakes his vocals with sheer volume, singing every word back to him. McCarthy stops dead in his tracks; he looks both startled and moved. It’s perhaps the moment he realises his life has reached another level, and is something he will never forget – as will none of the crowd.
The fact this band are only just on their first album makes the whole adulation even more incredible. Not for a long time have I seen a crowd so utterly and devotionally in unison with a band – and it’s easy to see why.
The moment Philadelphia kicks things off, the refrain of “It’s the city of brotherly love” superimposes itself onto proceedings from thereon in. Shepherd’s Bush Empire has suddenly become a mass love-in, the crowd feeding off the sentiment of the songs and the sheer energy of the performance, McCarthy throwing his Springsteen-like vocals up into the roof while keyboardist/bassist Eric Sanderson throws his own torso around like he’s about to hit the roof.
Joined onstage by guitarist Todd Howe from The Boxer Rebellion and a brass section, their live sound is now such that could scale stadium heights. Chant-along single Chapel Song, in particular, seems to obliterate all dimensions, its rhythmic mantra like a wrecking ball inside the venue. “Tear up the photograph cos it’s a bright blue sky”, McCarthy hollers, and all eyes and arms are raised to the heavens and walls seem to melt away.
During the closing song, the love-in vibe is upped once more, as New Drink for the Old Drunk sees the band joined onstage by an entourage of aptly drunk friends – including myself, The Boxer Rebellion and various other of the band’s devoted people – who duly set about hugging each other and singing along with the band like a bloody scene from Live Aid (at one point, I was actually front of stage on one of the mics bashing out some seriously rubbish vocals – not so much ‘Feed The World’ as ‘Plead The World… for this never to happen again.’ Backed by the b-side: ‘Does He Think It’s Christmas?’). Answer: I did…
In other company, this might have been saccharine stuff, but this is a band who just seem to be open – evident in their lyrics and also their manner – and you just can’t help react to that. They draw you in with their open hearts and dare you to believe in entire cities filled with brotherly love…
It is a beautiful world sometimes.