Any of you who read my blogs about the Latitude music festival will know that I thought We Are Augustines provided the best rock’n’roll experience of the festival. Check the review here. I’d not heard of them before that. I loved the energy, the passion, the beats and choruses, the communion with the crowd, and the hints of Springsteen.
I bought their debut album, “Rise Ye Sunken Ships” when I got home from Latitude. It didn’t immediately grab me. I’d wondered how the blurb in the Latitude handbook could liken them to Arcade Fire, when I was hearing a mix of Springsteen and punk. The album showed why. I listen to so much music now while doing something else – usually writing – that the sound has to be amazing to pull me in deep. And We Are Augustines’ album didn’t do that straight away. I liked it, but I gave it a couple of listens and moved on.
I knew they would be worth seeing live, though, and the Latitude handbook told me they’d be playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 1 October. I bought five tickets and rounded up a few friends to come along. I hyped the Springsteen angle rather, knowing that I was heading for a fall on that one. But I was confident they would like the band.
So last night I was there, waiting for confirmation that the Latitude concert wasn’t just festival euphoria. Forty minutes in the I-Arena tent in front of two or three hundred people had to translate to the Empire. It’s a good venue. No more than a couple of thousand people. Big enough for a serious roar, but still intimate.
And there was a serious roar. By the time the band came on the place was packed. The band came straight in with the punching beats of “Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love)”. It rocks, it slows down and gives the crowd a chance to join in with the yeahs, it’s a real anthem. It was the one at Latitude that made me feel like this was like watching Bruce in 75. Raw and rocking.
I hope I’ve got the song right. Because I hadn’t done my homework, I was still hearing the riffs and chants from Latitude, without pinning them to song titles. I’m pretty sure this one’s right, but most of the rest of the show was a blur of pounding drums, rocking guitars, soaring choruses, and poignant interludes, without being sure which song I was listening to.
I was really struck by the empathy that the band, and especially the singer Billy McCarthy had with the crowd. Majority in their twenties I’d say. Student and post-student. They knew all those choruses, or those moments when Billy just cries out a line. Songs that, on the album, were on the hazy, Arcade Fire side of things, became anthems. It added to the Bruce-ness of events.
And just reading a little today about the traumas that Billy has had in his family over the years, I thought, how fantastic that he has found a way to express his feelings through such positive music and how, again, he is drawing on a darkness that Bruce also experienced, in different ways.
I’m not saying here that We Are Augustines are ripping off Bruce Springsteen. No way. What I’m saying is that they are drawing on life’s experiences and finding redemption in rock’n’roll in the same way. And they are from New York, Bruce and the E Street band were down the road in New Jersey. There’s an affinity.
The encores last night really summed up the whole experience. First Billy sang an acoustic version of “Philadelphia” which brought out the essence of the song. I think this was the highlight of the show for me. Just so powerful. And then one of the rocking tunes to send us home happy – I need a set list! That looked to be it, but then Billy came back for another acoustic anthem, which ended up with the Augustines together with the two support bands and road crew all singing the hey-ays! it was a wonderful moment. Bands, crowd, everyone united in celebration. The simple power of music.
Of course today I’ve been listening a few times to the album and it is revealing its depths. Songs like “Book of James”, “Augustine” (which has a refrain which strangely, sounds to me like Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like A Wolf”) and ‘”Suarez”. Songs I remember from Latitude, as well as last night, once I concentrate! Great songs.
We Are Augustines aren’t yet massive – they should be, but who knows – but for me they exude a love of rock’n’roll and its redemptive power that will never fail to inspire. Not for everyone, but if you like Bruce Springsteen, or just enjoy the energy of rock’n’roll, then I would say give them a listen and try to catch them live.
Here’s a montage of the band, backed by “Philadelphia”
And a bit of the acoustic version from Shepherd’s Bush, freshly posted on YouTube
Well, the dogs on main street howl, ’cause they understand…!