We Are Augustines | O2 Academy, Oxford | 5 July 2012
Where do you start? This wasn’t just a gig; it was a whole lot more than that. For one thing, there were four other support acts, one of whom we missed, one of whom I really wish we had missed, one that I enjoyed, and one that sort of just washed over me.
For want of a better musical comparison, We Are Augustines are perhaps a collision between Bruce Springsteen and Arcade Fire; you have the emotion, the passion, the big guitar sound over the thumping drums, and you have the voice of Billy McCarthy. Now that’s some voice. It’s not manufactured, it’s not enunciated for effect, it is a pure raw and emotional tour de force.
By some wonderful, benevolent birthday wish, I had got a press pass to go in the photographers’ pit. (Is that even what it’s called?) It was a dream come true for a claustrophobic fish: bird’s eye view and no squashing. Except I became so transfixed at several points throughout the gig (draped over the monitor, camera limp in hand; dancing around, not taking photos…you get the gist) that I didn’t look remotely like someone who should be in charge of a camera.
Rise Ye Sunken Ships was released this March in the UK and last year in digital form in the US, to well deserved acclaim. It musically charts the tragic life events of singer and front man Billy McCarthy – losing his mother and brother to suicide, both of whom were schizophrenic – and it makes for a demanding listen. Live, the tremulous vocal delivery ignites the lyrics still further and at times McCarthy struggles to stay in control, particularly during a tender rendition of Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love). You get the strong sense of an emotional exorcism happening right in front of you: a man searching for – and needing – a connection. And that’s just what he and the rest of band get. There is such a huge outpouring of affection between band and audience, it’s palpable.
The set kicks off with Rise, and then headlong into my favourite, Ballad of A Patient Man, which resulted in some particularly awful out of focus pictures as I jigged around. Radio 6 favourite, Juarez, was followed by Augustine, Chapel Song, Headlong Into the Abyss and Patton State Hospital, where I assume McCarthy’s brother spent some time. It’s a loud, proud delivery that is on the very edge of an emotional precipice and the poignancy of the songs unites this room full of disparate souls. When the finale does come, the encore closes with the beautiful Book of James,
He stood there in his boots unable to move/ Kid, I drove all night to tell you that I love you.
And here lies my green eyes/rolled back in my head, but they’re alive/
And all these words can all get spoken/And I know we tried/ And you’re forgiven.
If you love music with your heart and soul, this is a gig that you felt in the very marrow of your bones. It floored me.
Download We Are Augustines – Ballad Of A Patient Man (Daytrotter Session) mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)Follow @madmackerel