Last concert of the year, back to the Roundhouse, where I’ve had some great moments in recent times, notably Prince and 3rd Eye Girl. This time it was the mighty Augustines, one of the most energetic rock’n’roll bands on the planet. I’d caught them, fairly briefly, at Latitude, in the summer, part of a brilliant sequence on the Sunday afternoon: Parquet Courts, Fat White Family, Augustines and The War On Drugs. And, of course, there was that cameo at the Berwick Street festival in Soho in April, which I blogged about.Tonight we got the full works and it was amazing!
Augustines, led by Billy McCarthy on vocals and guitar, with Eric Sanderson on bass, keyboards and sometimes guitar and Rob Allen on drums, are one of those bands that give you absolutely everything. Their love of the music, their delight at playing to ever-bigger crowds, their passion, honesty, is overwhelming. There are some parallels with early Bruce Springsteen: some of the phraseology, the difficult childhood an inspiration for some of the songs, the redemption in music. The escape, the means of expression, the release of emotion – and the celebration. But it’s simpler, more uptempo, a basic rock’n’roll trio, leavened by the manic trumpet of John Panos on this tour.
I’ve seen the band four times now, and this was the best. The intensity remained, the interaction with the crowd, but there was a new confidence. McCarthy knew if he turned the mic to the crowd, they would sing the words, knew they could take risks with some of their best known songs. “Philadelphia (City Of Brotherly Love)”, their most dynamic rocker, was stripped down and slowed down to a heartfelt solo triumph for McCarthy, with added crowd singalong. One of the highlights.
Where it turned from a really good concert to a great one was in the drawn out encore, which was almost as long as the main set! But only part of it was on the main stage. First, they appeared, with acoustic guitars, on the balcony and played a couple of songs: “The Avenue”, “Now You Are Free”. The first a lovely ballad, the second one of their anthemic chants. Then they returned to the stage and belted out the awesome “Book Of James”, a song I remember from the first time I saw the band, in front of a few hundred fans in the i-Arena at Latitude in 2012, when I was amazed at the following they already had, and the sheer energy of the performance. The future of rock’n’roll, I said, thinking a little of the hype around Bruce in 1975, when he played Hammersmith Odeon.
And then, and then, they appeared in the middle of the crowd on the floor of the Roundhouse, again with their acoustics – and communed. There was a raw version of “Weary Eyes” – with audience participation of course – a swaying “East Los Angeles” and then a joyful rendition of Toots and the Maytals “Pressure Drop”. Which was also covered by The Clash – I think there was a connection there. Billy McCarthy shares that rock’n’roll spirit with the great man himself, Joe Strummer.
They finished with “New Drink For The Old Drunk” back on stage – I think! Memory was getting blurred by now!
While they were in amongst the crowd I got the distinct impression that they would happily have set up shop and played favourite songs early into the morning. This is a band utterly in love with what they are doing and they want to share that love. Billy McCarthy, in an earlier introduction to a song, betrayed that love and some of the angst that goes with it, because of the difficulties he has faced in his life, when he said something like, I still worry that one day someone is going to take this away from me…
He choked as he said it. It seemed incongruous at a moment of triumph. But real. Raw emotion and maybe the reason why Augustines play every concert like it is going to be their last.
See them if you can.