The amazing Sylvan Esso making sure that we PLAY IT RIGHT before leaving the Fox Theater – Oakland after their stacked set, including hits from their new album, ‘What Now‘: Die Young, Radio, Glow, Kick Jump Twist, Just Dancing, and Signal. Their epic encore triggered a massive dance party after the closing of the show. First time I’ve ever witnessed such a phenomenon at that venue (and I go there ALOT). Amelia and her fluid, infectious moves had us all wishing we could “just dance,” for not many people can GLIDE ON STAGE the way that she does (not even close!). It was cool to also meet two videographers beforehand that were filming footage for a Sylvan Esso documentary. What an awesome idea! It was also cool to learn that Amelia’s family was originally from the SF Bay Area. Towards the end of the set, she mentioned that the Fox Theater was “her grandfather’s favorite,” and that many of her cousins (he had 11 grandchildren!) were in the audience that night. The unique lighting design on stage (<< >>) is tattoo that Amelia, Nick, and Jen (of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak) all have. Speaking of Jen, it was such a treat to have her on tour with them. In fact, I first discovered Sylvan Esso when they opened her her as Wye Oak in March 2014 at the Lexington (tiny venue!) in London. I guess things really do come full circle!
“It’s not how slow you go, it’s that you never stop.” “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in RISING every time we fall.” “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
–Confucius (500 BC)
These simple truths, voiced thousands of years ago by a great Chinese philosopher, remain the vein of Augustines existence and the “duende” that continue to invigorate their diehard fans (who fly from other countries to see them). “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without” (also Confucius), and when it comes to Augustines music, this pleasure percolates the crowd like the sweat seeping through every pore on our body. Sounds intense, and IT IS. Their live shows strip you bare, break you down, and build you back again, as if some sort of REBIRTH. Those that have never seen Augustines live can’t comprehend the sort of exhaustive catharsis and resurrection that accompanies their set. Each song will awake the soul and revitalize the heart, and by the end, you will feel like you are on the verge of a heart attack (at least I do). Not only is this because my carotids have been bulging from my neck from belting out the chorus so loud, but because my heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst. This American Beauty quote describes it perfectly: “It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.” Augustines have that same effect.
Billy McCarthy, the beating heart of Augustines, perpetuates an endless cascade of positivity EVERY SINGLE SHOW, leaving fans feeling loved, understood, and validated. “And all you want is something to believe in… just for a little bit. And we’re here tonight because of music. And music’s a funny thing because you can’t fucking own it. It doesn’t exist. It’s just matter. You can’t hold onto it. It’s a moment. This is your moment with music. And we’re sharing this moment with you right now through our music and we really appreciate it. We all need something to believe in and I want to tell you something tonight: at the end of this tour, I’ve been waiting my whole fucking life for this,” says Billy at the end of their gig in Birmingham (Feb 2014). Spoken like a true genius –one with the ability to creatively use your intellect—Billy knows exactly how to heal every wounded person in the audience. Armed with upbeat rhythms and uplifting lyrics (“soak your scars in the ocean”), he delivers an intoxicating dose of musical medicine with healing powers that are beyond belief. Music, ‘mere vibrations through the air,’ can somehow unite people all across the globe– people of different language, race, and background. Music is a way to explain things where there are no words, and the mood it elicits becomes common denominators for those ‘mere vibrations’– vibrations that chill our bones, strike chords in our soul, and resonate mantras in our minds. When it comes to Augustines, that mantra is to RISE. To “soak your scars in the ocean… to put away all our sobs…to let go all of your ghosts…to RISE up from some dirty ashes.”
I am always conscious of the notion that “everyone’s got a story to tell,” but the story of Augustines (Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson, Rob Allen) is something short of a MIRACLE— how they rose up from their ashes (e.g. death, neglect, deceit) and “overcame massive adversity & personal tragedy to become the most critically acclaimed indie band in the world.” Just last week, Big Vulture Productions announced a kickstarter campaign to fund a DOCUMENTARY FILM (called “RISE”) on this miracle of a story behind Augustines: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1638587871/rise-the-story-of-augustines (donate!)
If you do ANYTHING SENSIBLE this August (the month of Augustines!), it would be to donate to this incredibly rewarding cause and to help their story get told. Just as the great Maya Angelou once proclaimed, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” and I whole-heartedly agree. She also said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” I cannot think of a band that exemplifies this MORE so than Augustines, and SHARING THEIR STORY WITH THE WORLD has the potential to EMPOWER THE MASSES and to help people RISE UP from devastating tragedy. Tod Howe, the direct of “RISE,” states: “It is our intention that RISE transcends both music and band to stand on it’s own as a truly compelling film…To me, what makes this film so unique are the band members. The fact that they have been through so much in their history makes the success they now have inspirational on another level altogether.” If we truly believe that life is an echo, it makes sense that the generosity Augustines has sent out to fans for years is finally coming back to them. Let’s fortify this echo by donating to this film.
While my fervid film fever for this band might have you thinking that I am part of the creative collective behind “RISE,” don’t be fooled. Nope. I am just DIE-HARD fan (lil’ lady, BIG HEART) that feels utterly compelled to give MY EVERYTHING to making sure the music and story of Augustines is heard around the world. Although I am a MAD SCIENTIST by day (Biomedical Engineering: BS, PhD), I am a MUSIC JUNKIE by night that’s been gripped by the power of music and has felt its ability to heal. With a day job that encourages me to think analytically (aka “overanalyze”) and to use equations/formulas to study uncertainty and solve scientific problems, it’s nice to let my mind escape at night. Live music is indeed my escapism, and it has let my mind fly away to wonderful places when physical escape was not possible. Unlike science, there are no “formulas” for creating the “perfect song,” and I LOVE THAT. There are endless possibilities to crafting combination of keys, chords, rhythms, but none of which are “right” or “wrong.” Music is formless power whose only measure of its existence is the heightened sensation it provokes. Some songs resonate more with us during moments in our lives, and our favorite song one month might not be so the next. As with karma, I truly do believe that different music comes in and out of our lives at certain times FOR A REASON; the reason for Augustines coming back into my life (new album/tour) when it did was obvious: to RISE.
When I encounter life-changing music like Augustines, I am overwhelmed by such strong impulse to share it. Sharing music with others has always given me this insatiable high, this sense of euphoria that’s almost indescribable to those who aren’t music junkies like myself. Music is my drug, and I am definitely an addict– it’s my fuel when energy levels are low, and it’s my meditation when thoughts need reorganization; It’s my rhythmical road map to peace of mind and self discovery, my passport to the heart and soul; It’s my appetite for life. After moving to London and quickly averaging 2-3 shows a week, I started to joke that I might need an “intervention” from all of this live music. But then I realized that this would be like taking away my oxygen…my very life force. While I really do enjoy my day job as a scientist, this job does come with certain pressures and responsibilities that can sometimes overwhelm me to the point of paralysis; And that’s when music steps in. “Keep your head up kid, I know you can swim, But ya gotta move your legs.” YES. Thank you for reminding me, Billy. Not only does music keep me swimming in the face of adversity, but it also gives life a certain rhythm that keeps me dancing. In honor of the legendary actor, comic, BRIGHT SOUL that we lost yesterday—Robin Williams—I recall his memorable line from a scene in Dead Poet’s Society: “We read and write poetry because we are part of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion…Medicine, law, business, engineering…these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life…But poetry (MUSIC), beauty, romance, love …These are what we STAY ALIVE FOR.” Eerie enough, about an hour before Robin William’s suicide death was announced to the public, Billy had posted on facebook that it was the 5 year death anniversary of his brother James, who also happened to die from suicide. HEAVY HEART. Although a person may look happy, you sometimes have to look past their smile and see how much pain they may be in. We all need to start looking out for one another more, and starting show that we care. ❤
No matter how transient or unpredictable life gets, some music will ALWAYS remain a CONSTANT, an extension of something familiar (people, places, things). That is how I –and others– feel about Augustines. Their music is safe territory for people to find their voice, express themselves, and heal their wounds inside and out. It is a mainline to Billy’s heart and a conduit for people to connect with his experience in a very real and very personal way. Earnest Hemingway once said that a person’s “virtue” (what makes them great) is also “what makes them more vulnerable” and “they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” It’s this very vulnerability that make us fans able to connect with Billy in ways that most other frontman would never know. I’m not sure if Billy’s watched Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability (I hope he has!), but it’s an excellent reminder that “shame is the fear of disconnection” and that, no matter the past, we must “fully embrace vulnerability in order to make connection happen.” THIS is why the music of Augustines is SO powerful, and why Billy has received fan letters from people proclaiming that their music has cured grief and prevented suicide. There are not many bands whose emotions are brimming so close to the surface (ready to boil over) that you can nearly taste their pain. Despite everything that makes us fragile humans, Augustines reminds us that DREAMS DO COME TRUE. Their music is the very vessel that carries people forward through hardship and helps them harness the strength to “rise ye (own) sunken ship.”
It was not until I first saw Augustines at The Lexington (150 capacity) in London for an impromptu pre-album release show (selling out in 4 min), that I finally understood what it feels like to RISE, Augustines’ style. I remember that night so clearly because it was such a rat race to get to the venue and I almost did not make it. After an exhausting 12+ hr day (no food/drink) of injecting/imaging mice as the mad scientist, the music junkie kicked into full gear and I was off in a mad dash to arrive on time. Profusely dripping with sweat as a entered the door, I heard Billy’s voice upstairs realized that they had ALREADY STARTED. With panic mode soon kicking in, I became flooded with adrenaline and somehow (it’s sill all a bit hazy to me), I dodged through the crowd like a dark phantom in the night and was able to glide along the perimeter walls before magician-ing myself to the front. This scrappy, lil’ Italian ain’t no rookie, and although I normally wouldn’t be so rude, it was AUGUSTINES, and I had a HARD DAY. The fact that I even MADE IT there was shocking, so I wasn’t about to TWINKLE TOE in. If I got there, I was GETTING TO THE FRONT. And a sweet spot at the left corner of the stage (facing front) is where I landed. (like A BOSS) 😛
I thank EVERY HIGHER POWER out there, because that show was one of the most blistering, raw, cathartic performances from a rock group that I HAD EVER SEEN. (I see tons of bands). Seriously UNREAL on SO MANY LEVELS. Although I missed Augustines‘ opening song of Headlong into the Abyss–which is a real shamed because I love shouting along the chorus (“Call the police, go ahead call your shrink…Call whoever you want but I won’t stop the car…Call the police, go ahead call your priest…Call whoever you want, call in the National Guard”)–I was there for the full rundown of Chapel Song, one of my favorites from their debut album, ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships.’ Rob’s opening drums remind me of a racing heart beat, while Eric’s vacillating chords remind me of an apprehensive mind– both of which are very fitting for a song about a man standing indecisive on his wedding day:
“Well there goes my girl Into the chapel Now she’s walking down the aisle And it feels just like a mile And I shake shake shake like a leaf And I’m lyin’ lyin’ lyin’ through my teeth.”
Sung out with desperation and inner rebellion, Billy’s brutally honest vocals will have you feeling his every inch of emotion. The same goes for the line in Augustine when he pleads, “Keep your head up kid, I know you can swim, But ya gotta move your legs” (love the trailing guitar part), and when he shouts (my personal favorite), “New York City can go to hell!” I am always wondering if the “kid” he sings about is himself; if so, then Juarez helps explain why it might not be so easy to keep his head up: “Lord I see red…and I think my Daddy’s dead…Lord I see red and I’m prayin on my bed…I got a drunk for a mother…Got a saint for a brother.” Also early in the lineup that night was Cruel City, one of the first new songs delivered to the audience that night. This one was devoted to NYC, and Billy describes the meaning behind its name: “We did 255 shows over 23 countries for the last record, and I would come back beaten to a pulp…and I would get back to New York and there would be all these honking horns, and ‘Fuck You Buddy’, it was all really rough. I couldn’t relax; I would walk down the street feeling tense.” Although you might expect this tension to transpire into a harsh, angry song, it’s quite the opposite. Cruel City feels more upbeat than the others on the new album, and it has a distinct levity to it – a lightheartedness that can be attributed the influence of West African rythyms. Eric learned many new styles after studying music in Ghana, and the bouncy beats he brought back definitely give Cruel City its resilience: “Hey, I miss your skin…I still reach for you in the dark.”
As Billy looks out the crowd with his “weary” green eyes (although they did not play Weary Eyes that night), you can’t help feel compassion for him in a real and personal way. This ‘my heart feels your heart’ compassion is most evident during You Got Nothing to Lose But Your Head when he shouts at the top of his lungs: “Have you ever felt lonely?…Like your hollow heart is hanging in the wind…Your black lungs can’t breath…You got nothing to lose but your head.” But, the verse that really had my heart sinking to the pit of my stomach and on the verge of tears is:
“Have you ever lost someone, Screamed Holy Mary down the hall Or cried against the steering wheel, and hated every mirror you ever saw. Have you reached out in a cold cold night, Waved goodbye into headlights, Thought you were wrong your whole life, (slayed) The day you found true love…”
That first line about losing someone really hits home, as my best friend lost her father just over a year ago to cancer (horrible). But, instead of using his emotional carnage to harness sympathy, Billy uses it as a sort of SOS to rescue those still consumed by grief. “This song is about “the realization that now is the time. Gone are the days of wandering around waiting for that right time. There is no right time, so go — ya got nothing to lose but your head,” he says. It’s clear that he’s convinced the entire audience of this when he has them all belting out the last chorus: “HEY! You gotta get me outta here…Running circles in my brain.” Billy got so carried away that he actually LOST HIS HEAD and plummeted into the drums during the closing of the song. Funny thing was, Rob CONTINUED TO PLAY the symbols over Billy’s head to end the song, and immediately after –once climbing out the drum mess— Billy says to the crowd all nonchalantly, “Well THAT was a bit unnecessary…” HAHA. We all enjoyed the academy award winning performance. x
Another song where we feel compassion for Billy is in Hold On To Anything, when he holds up his hand ups as if being resurrected and wails: “Holes in my hands, can’t hold onto anyone…Can’t hold onto anyone…Soooo, call you friends…Cause I can’t hold onto anyone….hands full of holes.” Although the lyrics are a bit oppressive, the triumphant trombone of Al Hardiman keeps us clinging on, and we can’t NOT join Billy when he roars “YEEE–EEAH!” throughout. Al Hardiman is not a full-time Augustines member, but he joins them on some of their tours and it was a real treat to have him along that night at the Lexington. “He’s a very talented artist who we have a strong connection with,” explains Eric. “He’ll play trombone and sing, and play keyboards as well. We decided, with the nature of the music that we made on this record, that we wanted someone else to come out for the journey with us, because the walkabout hasn’t stopped, now that we’re learning to play these songs live. So as we go out into America and Europe and the rest of the world, this idea of a walkabout, of finding yourself, is going to carry on, and Al’s going to be joining us, for however long it lasts.” Not only did Al play trombone for some of the songs, but he also played cello for Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love), a song whose very lyrics serve as the key mission statement for the band: “To RISE up from some dirty ashes.” Eric’s opening piano instantly dissipated any heaviness I was carrying around with me that day, and I felt a thousand times lighter as I joined Billy in singing:
“It’s the same people Just different faces All lost in a fog And we could disappear just as easy And I’m already gone To rise up from some dirty ashes, (YES)) To put away all our sobs And now we’re choking on the years But this is not your fault… It’s the city of brotherly love…”
Having been born in West Philadelphia and raised just outside, I very much commiserate with other’s who’ve faced the austerity/turmoil of this rough city. Although I could never move back after moving to the West Coast (I’ve surely left my heart in San Francisco), I do appreciate where I came from, the dirt and the roots. Philly’s cultivated in me a natural scrappiness/toughness that is unparalleled to many (we don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and we often ‘hustle’ to get our way), and so I thoroughly enjoyed belting out “Soak your scars in the ocean…YEEE-AH!’ with the rest of the crowd. Chills all over my body for this one, cause you know the scars that Billy refers to RUN DEEP. And to have this song bleed even more emotion with Al’s stunning cello howling in the background?…DEAR GOD.
But for me, the most moving moment in the show –one the evoked the strongest visceral sense of sincerity–was when Billy described his disbelief of the show’s record 4-min sellout: “Four minutes to walk to the subway that used to take me to my last shitty job, two and a half to three years ago; Four minutes to tie the boots that would take me to that subway; Four minutes to queue for coffee before starting the job I had before Augustines…and…FOUR MINUTES TO SELL OUT THIS ONE OFF UK GIG.” (heart racing as if it might come through my chest!) This same thread of appreciation and devotion reminded me of Billy’s comment in an previous interview: “I think that art gets really good when you need to do it…I could drive a truck again, and I’d survive, but my soul wouldn’t survive. I need this music for my soul to make sense.” GOD I love this frontman and THIS BAND. Billy’s voice and lyrics are like a lifeline to the heart, and his live performances are concrete evidence of this NEED for music. He recently elaborated: “Music, some people enjoy it…blah blah…but something interesting happens when you need it…I NEED IT…I need music…music has made me become a better person…I just kept playing guitar and it gave me focus…I couldn’t afford a therapist, and my guitar and my heart and my band mates, it’s allowed me to not completely destroyed by some of the things that happened.” ❤
And with survival often being the mother of invention, this need for music sparked the very FLAME that would become Augustines—who rose from the ashes of Billy and Eric’s previous group, Pela (which broke up in 2009). Billy and Eric were joined by British drummer, Rob Allen, and together they grew immensely as they ignited the ashes of Pela to a new success. Eric says, “As individuals, we hit rock bottom after our dream of becoming musicians evaporated with Pela’s demise. We started drinking the pain away and gave up on mostly everything.” But, they DIDN’T GIVE UP. Using Pela’s defeat as sort of a fresh stimulus to create their debut alum, ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships.’ The very crux of that album was the loss/longing that deteriorated Billy as he suffered the death of his brother (James) to suicide and his mother (a schizophrenic) to a drug overdose.
“During that record (Rise Ye Sunken Ships),” Eric explains, “we spoke openly about a deeply personal time period in our lives, especially Billy’s.” Eric, Rob, and Billy all became each other’s therapists and wound-healers, reminding me of a quote I once heard from a famous rock climber: “Experiences that require that much struggle and involve that much raw human emotion, really expose us. When you’re that exposed, you can’t help but either love or hate the people you’re with. It just happens that way. When you’re rubbed raw, your partners are going to be salt in your wound, or they’re going to be Bandaids.“ (love this) Together, Augustines was able to transform this tragic past into emotional emancipation— emancipation from pain endured by others with similar tragedy. Their struggles only built them a stronger warrior, adding more metal to their armor. They’d beaten off every unfortunate circumstance thrown their way, spinning every negative into a positive, and eventually shouting this message to the world with renewed spirit and vitality. “By the end of that tour,” explains Allen, “we had people at festivals dancing and singing words back to us. It was incredible. I don’t think we were fully expecting that. But by the end of it, it was so inspiring that, after two and a half years, we were able to look at the past with a positive attitude. And that’s really what this new record is about – capturing those feelings and positive energy. It made us a unit. It made us a band.”
The positive reaction and excitement from Augustines’ first album (Augustines) ended up overpowering the tragedy and darkness that inspired it, and they realized that they wanted to feed off that excitement. “The new album doesn’t deal with the despair of the first,” Billy said. Instead, it’s about the excitement that he, Eric and Rob felt as they grew the band from the ashes of another project and made it its own success. After playing >250 shows in 2011, they feel they’ve become better live performers, and have enjoyed the fans’ reciprocation of their on-stage passion. “For me,” says Eric, “the core of the record is the concept of a walkabout. Going on a journey to find– re-find–yourself after going through a life changing experience. What do you do when you make it through the other side? When you can confidently say that you’ve worked through the tragedy? When your life actually starts to mirror the belief you have in yourself?” It’s an album of rebirth, renewal, and regeneration, as well as growth, exploration, and moving on from the past. Robs adds: “The whole point is finding who you are and finding yourself, taking in everything that happened and moving on. Because by the end of it, we felt so many positive vibes and we wanted to put that into the record. There are loads of big sing-alongs and choruses, and it’s all because, when we were playing, we’d get that back from the crowds and it was so inspirational for us. It was a wonderful feeling and we wanted to make sure that got put onto the record.”
For Billy, finding himself and moving on from the past meant to re-visit it (old schools, old teachers) and to visit places FAR from “home”: Turkey, Mexico, Kenya, Alaska. My good friend Allie once told me that you “never know what ‘home’ is until you travel away from it,” and I couldn’t agree more. Before playing Walkabout at the Lexington that night (yes, I definitely went on a tangent), Billy talked about how he was unsure where “home” was, and so he decided to do a “walkabout” and explore the world. He drove his motorcycle all across the States, up to Alaska (“exploring isolated territory of caribou and dogsled packs”), and even went as far as Turkey, Mexico and Kenya (“I played the demo of ‘Cruel City’ to Kenyans in Kenya”). He made everyone laugh with his witty story, but soon these giggles became tears as he wailed this melancholy majestic ballad in stride with Eric’s beautiful piano (during the beginning and end):
“Into the arms of the sea, Where my tide had carried me, I walked out of the waves, To be quiet with storms inside.” (slayed)
While I do love ALL of the songs on the new album (Augustines), Walkabout –the albums’ key track– strikes a special chord in me. Although I didn’t flee Brooklyn and ride a motorcycle down to Mexico and up to Alaska like Billy, I did leave California for international work and have been traveling around Europe (17 countries in 15 months) in search of new adventure, paying close attention to where I could see myself calling “home.” Walkabout was released right about when I needed to start making some hard fast moves regarding my decision to stay in London (or go back home), and I can’t help but tear up every time Billy roars “COME ON HOME” during the middle. And “roar” means ROAR– Billy feels every word and relives every moment of every lyric that he vocalizes on stage, and YOU feel it too. Knowing this, he asked the audience after Walkabout: “Was that too much?” This apprehension reminded me of something I heard Billy discuss in an interview: “If I’m not mistaken, life aches…It’s like when I hear flamenco, I like it when those women go [he imitates a wail]. I didn’t wake up one day and go, ‘Hey, I’m going to sing like I’m nearly crying’. It’s just that that’s how it makes me feel.” Life sometimes DOES ache, and although we often travel (“walkabout”) to make sense of this life, travel too, can hurt. I quote Anthony Bourdain: “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
Aside from Walkabout, the other standout track to me is Now You are Free, and I only just found out that it was previously considered for the album’s title: “When we started working on this record it was called ‘Now You Are Free’. Because when you invest all your time and heart and passion into getting somewhere and overcoming obstacles and finding a sense of peace and you finally get there, you’re free to do whatever you want. We’re free to finally prove ourselves to people and live life the way it should be,” Eric says. Adding to this, Billy comments, “You’re free to walk the walk you always said you could walk.” Now You Are Freeis one of those universal songs that most ANYONE can relate to and make sense of in their own unique way. Everyone has ghosts from their past that they need to “let go,” and so when Billy belted out this ballad, we couldn’t help throw our fists in the air and belt along too:
“You got to let go Let go all of your ghosts You got to let go Or more will come around… Alright, now go easy on yourself.. Alright, now you are free…”
As if that verse didn’t satisfy your inner rockstar, the next one would. Fast-forwarding from the Lexington gig to the much larger gig at KOKO (a few months later), I lucidly recall my anxious anticipation as the entire crowd (1,500+ screaming fans) shouted “WHAT AM I RUNNIN’ FROM?” over and over –echoing Billy in a call-and-response kind of manner– right before the highly climatic response of: “Myself and everyone….LET GO!” Hands down one of the most CATHARTIC musical experiences of my life. And to top it off, Billy introduced the song with some inspirational words that will forever stay present in my mind: “THIS IS YOUR FUCKING LIFE!…Don’t give up on your shit I promise.” I DID have ghosts, but now they’re gone. x
I’ve always found that the most powerful way to SAVOR is to share feelings and events with others as they unfold. This is EXACTLY what makes Augustines different from any of the other bands I’ve seen. They SHARE THE STAGE with their fans. “Action for me is in the crowd,” Billy says. “If we can minimize the distance between the artist and the crowd and make it for more of crowd participation, then that’s really something.” Eric adds, to us “It’s not (about) musicians up on a pedestal…The audience is singing, the audience is dancing, they’re all making music together…That’s what we’ve been trying to do our whole lives as musicians, but only recently have we been able to embrace that.” On the recent Augustines tour in particular, the band had developed a reputation for playing their encore (~5 songs) IN THE CROWDS, some of which are also IN PARKING LOTS. I mean, you can’t get anymore public than that. When asked to comment on this, Billy explains: “This is us handing it over to those people that sang our songs back to us all over the world…It’s all about being inclusive…Interaction is the lifeblood of what we think music is.” This inclusiveness is what sucks us fans into the Augustine vortex and has us roaring in a vehement sing-a-long to their lyrics, gasping for air at the end of each verse. You feel exhausted at the end, but it’s an exhaustion that you crave because it’s made you heal. The best medicine out there.
New Drink for the Old Drunkwas one of those songs that they played IN THE CROWD that night at the Lexington, and in fact, Billy was standing RIGHT in front of me. (Dying). There are many caustic lines in that song, but this one always stands out: “And you cringe as you binge to forget how you hate…All the doom in the pitiful room you create.” Wow. Aside from New Drink for the Old Drunk, Augustines later added The Avenue, Weary Eyes, and East Los Angeles, as songs they would play in the crowd as part of their encore. They also learned some cover songs, like Guns of Brixton by the Clash, which they played at KOKO. That KOKO gig was MENTAL, and while The Avenue was played on one of the theater balconies, the rest of the encore was played with Billy, Eric, and Rob surfing (pretty much) in the middle of a SEA OF FANS. This highly anticipated gig surely escalated into one night of EPIC MUSICAL ESCAPE, and I could not be more captivated by a band who’s honesty and pure passion is more tangible than most bands will ever know. By the end of the show, every fan looked as if they had been spellbound by the Augustine fever. I nearly died when Rob, a London native (usually very shy), shouted to the crowd with his hands raised high in the air, “LONDAAAAN, you MAKE ME PROUD.” Yup, THESE is these are the moments I live for. Like Billy was saying all night: “This is your FUCKING LIFE!”
And if there is ONE SONG, one song that Billy breathes life into MOST, it’s Book of James. He’s commented before that Book of James was the most meaningful song of the first album: “I think anybody that’s a writer… well, sometimes the closest distance between what you want to say and how it’s being perceived, sometimes that can be a big gap or it can be very immediate: right from your heart, out of your hands, into a page and the person gets it. I think that happened in that song. I needed it to happen in my life that kind of straightened me out. It’s kind of an interesting thing that you can set a four-minute piece of music and it can change your life. I needed to say some things. I needed to reach out to somebody that wasn’t treated well. I needed to restore some innocence to somebody who I didn’t think it was his/her fault. It gave me a platform to move through the process of adjusting what had happened. It was a bit of a gift. I’m really proud of it.” As a listener, this song encourages you to be with Billy as he grieves his brother’s loss and lives to honor it—to be somewhere between life (hope) and death (fear): “Here lies, my green eye, rolled back in my head…but they’re ALIVE.” (SLAYED) And, if that doesn’t lather your skin with chills, this next verse will: “And all these words can all get spoken…just know we tried…and you’re forgiven.” (could be a Hail Mary) They extended the instrumental intro to Book of James that night at KOKO in order to build up rapture and lure us in even more. Billy has definitely made the legacy of his brother live in him during this song. That’s obvious. For me, Book of James was the ONE SONG in particular that kept my legs moving and had me cross that finish line for my first marathon (Gran Canaria) a week after the Lexington gig. Each Augustines song (especially Don’t Look Back, Kid You’re On Your Own, and This Aint’ Me) contributed a mile to that marathon, but Book of James found my ‘SUPER HUMAN.’
There is no denying that Augustines has changed me for the better, and that their WALKABOUT into my life came at a perfect time. Just like they give it THEIR ALL at each and every gig (playing every second as it if was their last), I wanted to give MY ALL in writing about them. This review had brewing in my bloodstream for a WHILE –ever since I first saw them at the Lexington back in January– But, it wasn’t something that I wanted to rush. I wanted to exhaust all of my efforts to convey my appreciation for this band, and to lead others to do the same. I find that the most beautiful/extraordinary things in life are often the most difficult to convey, so this review was surely a challenge. If you’ve stood next to me at an Augustines’ show, then you would UNDERSTAND. Some emotions, feelings, and experiences just CAN’T be transcribed, and so my best advice would be to GO SEE FOR YOURSELF. Every Augustine gig has been branded in my memory as a ‘moment I’ve LIVED for,’ moments that DO last a lifetime. “This is your FUCKING LIFE.” The music and story of Augustines has given us SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN, and for more than just a moment. Don’t forget to RISE UP in helping to make their story heard. 🙂
I won’t be able to make their Roundhouse gig in Dec cause I’ll be in Melbourne, Australia, so I need to SAVOR EVERY MOMENT at GREEN MAN festival this weekend! Augustines will play on Friday, August 15th. This also happens to be BILLY’S BIRTHDAY!! (with ERIC’S BIRTHDAY the next night!) WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!! I mean, REALLY. We BETTER make sure we HELP THEM CELEBRATE! xxx
All of my pictures and videos from their gigs can be found below.
I go to A LOT of gigs (everyone knows that), but last night was one of the first times I ever came across a singer/songwriter (Jake Morely) with such breadth- a true amalgamation of various styles. Every song of Jake Morley‘s set had it’s own unique flavor, from funk to folk to gospel. Funny enough, he elaborates on why this is: “I set out to write varied songs because I’m a varied person. Also – I’m only just getting started, so I wanted my first album to act as an introduction. The songs on Many Fish To Fry are just like me – in parts heavy, light, elated, confused, serious, funny, random and whatever else. In isolation they might just be fragments, but put the fragments together and they hopefully form a coherent whole. That’s the idea anyway. After we’re best buds I can always make other albums that look at certain areas in more depth.” I especially like when he laid his guitar flat across his lap, combining fingertaps with percussive slaps. The only artists I’d ever known to do that were Andy McKee, Ben Howard, and Daniel Champagne, and I remember being utterly amazed. Jake’s set our to record some more new songs this summer, and from the ones he played last night, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed. One of my favorites was a song called Falter (aka ‘Headstrong’), where he unveils yet another bag of tricks: “Flicking your fingers across all the strings one after the other to make a harp-like sound.” https://vine.co/v/M9TWzVb5EzM I remember thinking this was THE COOLEST THING because I’m a huge fan of the harp, and a it’s rare to find many harpists these days. I can’t wait to hear the full song and the FULL ALBUM. xxx
Some meat is harder to chew, but when you do, it’s a MUCH MORE satisfying MEAL. That’s how I feel about the music of The Twilight Sad, as well as of some of my other favorite bands: tUnE-yArDs, The Dirty Projectors, Manchester Orchestra, etc. Even the size of The Twilight Sad fan-base (# of facebook “likes”) is pretty low considering their talent/potential, the dedication and loyalty of this fab base is unparalleled in comparison to that of most other bands (another example of this is Augustines). Having seen The Twilight Sad three times in the past three months (1 twilight per month, yes please!), I’ve already become friends with a few other fans (the “regulars”) that I’ve recognized at these same gigs. One of these fans in particular had actually traveled up to Scotland a few times just to see them when they weren’t gigging as frequently in London (which fortunately, they are now). She was even recognized by James’ dad last night at their SOLD OUT Lexington gig. Diehard fans = family, but it’s only a matter of time before TheTwilight Sad builds up their numbers (hopefully with the release of their next album). Every one needs to experience the satisfaction of that meat which initially might be harder to chew. x
I first heard of The Twilight Sad from an Irish buddy back in 2010 who had seen them at The Cluny in Newcastle and was BLOWN AWAY. They were on my radar ever since, and it just so happened that they were playing at my favorite music venue (The Independent) in San Francisco the spring (March 2012) before I was set to graduate. That gig was a COMPLETE EYE-OPENER, and I was just as blown way by The Twilight Sad then, as my buddy was a few years back. Right before SLAYING US with his performance of Cold Days from the Birdhouse, James toasted crowd and mentioned that it was a particularly special night because his DAD was in town, COMING ALL THE WAY FROM SCOTLAND for the show. He was overflowing with gratitude, claiming that the last time the band played the Independent back in 2007, only one person showed up. I found out later that it was more like 15 people, but thing definitely have changed…
I was almost moved to tears during the intro of Cold Days from the Birdhouse, with James’ powerful pipes (and full Scottish brogue) pulsing over the euphoric ringing of Andy’s guitar. My INSIDES were basically doing JUMPING JACKS the entire time…Jaw dropped, eyes stunned, heart pounding. Mad “cheers” to the gut-wrenching punch of The Twilight Sad (see video below).
“And so you make it your own But this is where your arm can’t go (James KILLS IT here) You make it your own But this is where your arm can’t go … And your red sky at night won’t –follow me It won’t follow me now. I won’t wear your shoes, I won’t clip your wings.”
Aside from Reflection of a Television, I Became a Prostitute, and That Summer, I had Become the Invisible Boy, and Alphabet, the other song that killed it for me was And She Will Daken the Memory. James has a eeire way of gettin gunder your skin with his emotionally-charged lyrics that seem to emerge from a dark, curious place: “And head up dear, you’re shallow and blind…And head up dear, the rabbit might die…Because I’m putting up with your constant whine…And that won’t last too long.” A fantastic frontman indeed, and the passion/power behind his pipes are something I would have expected from the legendary James Morrison back in the day. When vocals are your main contribution to a band, you have to OWN THEM in every way, shape, and form to make them your own, unique instrument. You are responsible for carrying the melodies and entertaining the masses, and James clearly DOES THIS when he twirls around stage with his hands clenched and his body thrown into fits, letting the music take FULL CONTROL. At one point, I clearly remember him kneeling on stage with his head thrown back and eyes rolled back, ROARING into the mic like a madman. Yep, that’s the kinda passion that sticks. x
Right after the gig, I started chatting with the woman who was standing next to me the entire time, and it turns out she’s pretty famous music photographer (lots of her stuff is in Rolling Stone magazine and in art galleries) by the name of Paige Parsons. She mentioned to me that had taken portraits of James the year before (2011) when they were on tour with Frightened Rabbit. That night, James told Paige that one of her portraits of him was his Dad’s favorite, and that it is hanging up on the mantle inside their house. A mother herself, Paige was SO MOVED by this that she asked to get a photo with James’ Dad, and I couldn’t help but grin at the magical moment unfolding before my eyes. I went on to telling James how much I enjoyed the gig, and later started suggesting places (Redwood forests!) for them to see while on tour in Northern California. I also asked to grab a pic (yes, it’s cheesy but I don’t care) with James, as well as with Martin (“Doc”) Doherty who was handling keyboards/percussion. Crazy thing is, I remember Martin telling me that night about his itch to pursue his own solo project, one with a more electronic focus. WELL, turns out this ITCH later ESCALATED into something HUGE: formation of the Scottish electro/pop band, CHVRCHES, who BLEW UP in 2013, topping all radio charts and headlining major festivals. There’s a prime example of why you should never stop following your heart, even when your mind tells you otherwise. Related to this, Sarah Barthel (of Phantogram) claims that the secret to making it in the 21st century music industry is to “Just work your ass off and believe in your music.” (Love that) ❤
Having moved from California to England in Nov 2012, I’ve been lucky enough to see The Twilight Sad three times in London since that gig at the Independent. One of those three was a rare and unique acoustic performance by James and Andy as part of a Bandstand Busking event (all videos are posted below). They opened the set with Cold Days From the Birdhouse, the gem that SLAYED US the first time we heard Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. God damn. Then, they surprised us with a new song, Last January, that really struck a deep chord with me and is likely to be one of my favorites on the new album: “It’s your eyes, touching my eyes…” (SO GOOD)The next song, I Became Prostitute, is one of my favorites, and although it’s got a heavy title, James assured us that the the title really has no relevance to the song. Haha. And that’s why we love them even more… (The unexpected airplane flying over the gazebo at 2 min in made for a pretty funny moment)
I Became Prostitute followed with a hilarious intro to the second new song, one that James couldn’t quite remember the name of at first. He jokes about how he thought it was his Dad sitting there, saying: “Open your eyes, James! You can’t see anything!” (“shut the f*ck up, Dad!”) His dad surely DOES know him well, because James DOESN’T EVER open his eyes. Haha. He’s just concentrating too hard! James soon remembers the name of the song as It Never Was the Same, and later tells me that they only just named the songs a week ago. Plus they all have different names for them, and the names one their set-lists don’t ever match the actual names on the album (see picture below). It Never Was the Same was such a STUNNING TRACK, and I very much Looking forward to hearing it again with a full band: “We danced to save them all…” (YES)
After being spoiled by the new tracks, James and Andy finished off the set with two of our favorites from Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters: And She Would Darken the Memory and That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy. It was really cool to hear the stripped down, raw version of the louder, bolder originals. These songs definitely hit a soft spot for many Twilight Sad fans, and I noticed a few tears coming from the person (a full grown man) standing next to me. Oh, those musical triggers! It’s crazy how they sneak up on us and re-awake different moments of our lives. I guess that’s the beauty in it all: “I’m 14, and you know, That I’ve learned the easy way…The stupid decisions…And with a broken heart…The kids are on fire in the bedroom.”
About a month after this beautiful acoustic performance through Bandstand Busking was The Twilight Sad’s sold out Lexington gig, and we were all a bit SAD to hear that they could only play ONE of their new songs because some JERK stole their equipment last week. Who does that?! James dedicated I Became a Prostituteto that BAD BAD person, and all of their channeled RAGE made for one hell of a performance. Mark was a beast on drums (as always), and Andy was shoegazing with all sorts of new tricks tonight. The noise generated from Andy’s guitar is MASSIVE, so massive that his guitar vibrations alone were causing the empty beer glasses in front of me to glide across the stage. James was his usual ‘two-headed boy’– nice and humble in between songs, but a stormy savage on stage. He even yanked at the microphone so hard during Cold Days from the Birdhouse intro that he temporarily broke it..SILENCE…right at the buildup to “And your red sky at night won’t follow me.” He then laughs, “Well that kinda ruined the moment.” The whole set was epic (I don’t think I EVER stopped swaying), including the full-band version of their new gem, Last January. “It’s your eyes….touching my eyes.” I can’t wait for more TWILIGHT ON TUESDAY when they play a benefit gig with Mogwai! I also can’t wait for the NEW ALBUM, which James confirmed would be released in the Autumn. From the songs I’ve heard so far, this album might be their BEST (James thinks so too). It might just be the right place/right time for others (non-diehards) to catch on. I’ll make sure my buddies in California see them when they fly through in Nov with the Jetpacks (We Were Promised Jetpacks). 🙂
The Twilight Sad– bandstand Busking, London
(June 21, 2014)
Cold Days from the Birdhouse:
I Became a Prostitute:
It Never Was the Same:
And She Would Darken the Memory:
That Summer, At Home I had Become the Invisible Boy:
The Twilight Sad– Hoxton Square Bar & Grill, London
The Guardian recently cited Alex Vargas as “one of the most impressive white soul voices since Steve Winwood and Robert Palmer,” and I could not agree MORE. His sold-out performance last night at The Lexington had you WEAK AT THE KNEES, despite his initial remark to the crowd: “It’s Friday night! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU ALL DOING HERE?!” (very endearing). It’s Alex’s unique pipes and soulful HOWLIN’ that make him stand out above most troubadours his age, and it’s very fitting for ‘Howl‘ to be the title of his recent EP. He describes ‘Howl‘ as a collection of personal songs “For my loved ones, and some lost ones.” The title track WILL give you goosebumps. His howlin’ has ME HOWLIN’! Raised in Denmark but of British/Uruguayan descent, Alex has been living in London for almost 10 years and is now finally reaping the rewards of his exhaustive circuit of open mic nights. He recently had two sell-out headline tours, and now is in high demand. It turns out he is very good friends and roommates with another London artist ( also fathered by Communion) who was on the lineup for Communion’s Bushstock this year: Jack Garratt. I ran into Alex at Jack Garratt’s debut EP (Remant’s) launch at The Waiting Room last night, and he said that him and the band are working on recording and hope to have another headline gig in October. That might be the last one I see in London!