Friday, June 19
Don McGlashan’s Lucky Stars is a terrific album – I thought that at the time (as the review in that link will tell you) and I’m really glad that McGlashan clearly thinks so too, he opened his Lucky Stars show by playing the album in its entirety. Nothing says a performer has faith in their music, or still sees some merit/value in the album format like seeing the entire record reproduced live.
Tom Rodwell (guitar) and Chris O’Connor (drums, harmonium) provided the backing. No bass, as is the case on the new album, just McGlashan’s voice, acoustic guitar and occasional euphonium.
Lucky Stars is a contemplative set of songs – but there’s the strong opener, Girl Make Your Own Mind Up, it would have been a correct show-opener even if it wasn’t the album-opener also. The title song and first single was up next – and these shows arrive a couple of months after the release of the record so, even though it’s a punt – playing the album right through, it’s not as if the fans haven’t have a chance to connect with this material.
What was so hugely impressive about hearing this set of songs all together, a song-cycle nearly, sibling songs that cling to one another, celebrating shared strengths, blurring any possible weaknesses (and these are among the very best songs McGlashan has written, I – still – firmly believe this, it’s his best set of held-together tunes since in 25 years) is the way the material just seemed to grow, getting stronger, as the set rolled on.
The opening brace, fine, good songs – very trademark-seeming, but it was midday through the album’s tracklist when the smoulder of When The Trumpets Sound and For Your Touch showed that McGlashan’s great way with a song isn’t just in his story/prose lyrical approach, isn’t just in the shaping and phrasing of those words either, but as an arranger – a composer who carries through the idea of an arrangement as part of the writing/creation of a song. And if there’s so much in McGlashan’s voice – capable of wrapping songs in a wistful nostalgia, a forlornness that’s more touching than heart-breaking – it’s matched in the musical voices he uses to help sell that brand of sadness. The euphonium, his a chopping-down bite of acoustic guitar, the nearly-ethereal falsetto, all tools applied so perfectly as he chisels out the right song shape every single time. The deft accompaniment of Rodwell and O’Connor as intuitive support also, subtle use of brushed drums one minute and carnival-barker percussion the next, guitar that approaches from the distance like a fog-covered set of headlights, a foghorn from paddocks away in amber autumn hues.
The set-closing, album-closer, The Waves Would Roll On, will go on to be a show-closer, an encore, but for now it’s the way to wrap the album and the album-portion of a show. It’s majestic. Yet another example of Don writing the very best song he could and in a way that only he can.
After the interval it was the “hits” portion of the show – clever arrangements hiding, for the most part, any need for a second electric guitar or a bass or other “rock band” vibe. The trio bashed out Dominion Road and looked like they were having fun doing it, hard not to when between that guitar line and the evocative opening verse it lights the right fuse with any audience on any night.
From there it was to Warm Hand, the first McGlashan solo album, for This Is London and – even better – Toy Factory Fire. Also Queen of the Night.
Then the emotional highlight of the show antecedent, in a way, to newer songs such as Waves Would Roll On, The Front Lawn’s best song, Andy.
This has long been a favourite in any McGlashan live set – and every time, and as the years grow behind it, there’s a new (added) poignancy.
Then to the revelry-side of The Front Lawn with Tomorrow Night, and to The Mutton Birds’ last recorded chance at nailing their sound down with Pulled Along By Love.
The one misfire of the night was C2006P1 (Make Yourself At Home) – one of a suite of “comet” songs. It should have been a buzzkill, it didn’t work, didn’t need to be there, but they got away with it, largely because everything – everything – had been wonderful.
The Heater, slightly marred by the penultimate song of the set’s lingering smell, closed the show’s main body – and people loved it even with the wobble within its new arrangement. They loved it because it was – and is – The Heater. And even when not quite 100% right it was still pretty great.
The encore fixed things again. We were returned to transcendent. Don’s handling of Bathe In The River (always his as soon as you’ve heard his – correct – version) gives the song a country-music feel, that southern comfort of country-soul rather than the belted-up gospel makeover it received when sent out into the world as a Hollie Smith vehicle.
And then Anchor Me.
That you can hide a song like that up your sleeve until the end – and still have so many songs people would want to hear after…
McGlashan’s latest showcase for his songs is about the best I’ve ever heard him. It’s an honest and thoughtful presentation of some of his finest material. Dressed correctly, sent out into the world – either once again or for the first time – looking inward, introspective but imbued with so much heart and spirit and a quiet, careful confidence. McGlashan’s songs are, after all, pieces of the man. We should thank our lucky stars for him. There are people who do it differently, sure, that’s obvious, there’s no one around that does this as well.