Review: Augustines and New Desert Blues at Astra, Berlin


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Rating:
5
On 5 May 2014
Last modified:13 November 2017

Summary:

Augustines in Berlin

Image by Jon Stone Video

Last night I went to what I believe was my seventh Augustines show in 2 years. It was also their biggest headline show in Germany – and possibly in the whole of Europe – to date. The show sold out (twice!) and was therefore moved to a 1000 capacity venue. This was little surprising with all the support they’ve been receiving from one of the local radio stations. In all of the smaller venues I had seen the band beforehand they proved to be not only one of the most exciting contemporary rock bands but also the best live band I have ever seen. Augustines have a distinct way of connecting with their audience that makes every Augustine show a very intimate and personal experience.

Earlier that day, their support act New Desert Blues played an acoustic set at a local apparel store. Four of the six members had gathered to present songs from their recent Devil’s Rope EP and a couple of new ones from the forthcoming debut album. I was truly amazed by their polyphonic vocals around which the performance was centered. Luckily they told me that they’d be on early that night because I’d have missed their set otherwise. Because the show had been moved and the venue had an early curfew. When I got to the venue they were only about 50 people there but New Desert Blues made the most of it. The band played four guitars at a time and delivered beautiful renditions of their singles and EP tracks. They will be back this summer for a headline show.

By the time Augustines took the stage the place had filled up reasonably. It was only a few songs into the set though that everyone had arrived because the tickets for the original venue indicated a different time. Augustines launched into the set with their most popular tracks Headlong, Chapel Song, and Cruel City. I still find it peculiar because most bands would save tracks like these for last but then again each of their songs has as much appeal as the last. The first half contained mainly songs from their debut album Rise Ye Sunken Ships for instance Augustine, and Juarez on top of the above as well as a beautifully stripped down version of Philadelphia that consisted only of Billy McCarthy’s anguished vocals and multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson on keyboards. Whenever McCarthy goes into balladeer mode he looks a bit as if he was physically reaching out to his deceased brother raising arms to the ceiling.

This was followed by a couple of songs from their sophomore self-titled album, namely Don’t You Look Back, This Ain’t Me and Walkabout, that were met with as much enthusiasm as the old ones. Strange Days was, as usual, introduced by a guitar versus trombone battle between McCarthy and touring member Allen Hardiman – a funny gimmick I love each and every time. The main set was closed with the latest single Nothing To Lose But Your Head but Augustines weren’t done yet. Seconds later they appeared on a small stage on the side of the room playing and singing an unplugged version of The Avenue. As beautiful as it was the venue was slightly to big for this kind of stunt and inevitably people were talking all over the place and someone even started filming with an iPad (people like that should be banned from gigs…). Back on the main stage they played two more new ones as well as the anthemic Book Of James which McCarthy announced “for my brother Jim.”

But that still wasn’t it. Augustines reappeared at the centre of the crowd armed with guitars and a drum box to give few more unplugged renditions (Weary Eyes, East Los Angeles and a cover of Toots & The Maytals’ Pressure Drop). Their usual set closer New Drink For The Old Drunk followed and was interrupted by drummer Rob Allen’s kick drum who had reappeared behind his drum kit. The rest of the band followed him on stage and closed the set with frenetic sing-alongs.

Augustines’ stadium sized rock worked perfectly in a venue this size and it will work in bigger ones. In terms of singing unplugged and joining the crowd, however, Augustines have reached a certain limit. I doubt they will still be able to do this when the venues get eben bigger on their next tour. As unfortunate as that may be, it was a fantastic show and I suggest you get yourself a ticket when they come to your town. Augustines really are one of the best live bands out there and I will always go to their shows no matter how big they’ll get. To put it in the words of one of my favourite songs of theirs: As long as my heart keeps pumping blood.

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