While I imagine most bands at various points in their career will have played on the street, in pubs and on a venue’s stage, few, if any, have managed to do it all in the course of one show. American indie rockers Augustines (formerly We Are Augustines) are known for their intense performances and have played off-stage amongst the crowd numerous times this tour. Their Oxford gig however, took this to a whole new level in a night so awe-inspiring it will stay with me forever.
Their emotive material, now spanning two albums, draws a lot of inspiration from the family tragedies of front-man William McCarthy and is profoundly affecting. Though the poetic lyricism is at times dark and desperate, the raw, rugged defiance of McCarthy’s vocals and the rousing choruses pounded out by drummer Rob Allen and bassist Eric Sanderson, convey incredible hope and positivity, a sentiment that carries across to the fans. After ‘Chapel Song’, and an acoustic, impromptu cover of Toots and The Maytals’ ‘Pressure Drop’, McCarthy admitted his voice was struggling from the sheer number of shows the band had played recently. Rather than disappoint and dishearten, this confession only spurred the crowd to sing even louder. McCarthy certainly didn’t hold back either, fortified with plenty of whisky, he belted out new album’s ‘Cruel City’ and older track ‘Juarez’ with overwhelming passion and conviction. To me, it seemed his voice got stronger as the show progressed and if it did falter in places the crowd more than filled the gap.
The overall effect was to create an atmosphere of inclusivity and total euphoria, with the band appearing completely overwhelmed and awed by such a positive response from the crowd. After playing one encore, McCarthy returned and said he’d been told they only had fifteen minutes left but it was quite clear both band and audience did not want this gig to end. After consulting his tour manager (and roguishly lighting up a cigarette on stage) he suggested the show continue on the street. With just two acoustic guitars and a cajon, and the crowd gathered around them at the front of the O2, the band performed a further five tracks, including the legendary ‘Book of James’ dedicated to McCarthy’s late brother. ‘Kid You’re On Your Own’ was requested by an audience member and though the band had never tried this acoustically, they worked it out, totally off-the-cuff. This was live music at its purest.
The tour manager then announced the police had been called due to complaints about the noise and, after first boldly shouting “Well they can come and arrest me!” McCarthy decided to take everyone to the pub, resulting in a number of very confused faces as the band and entire crowd piled into The Library next door. If any of this had been tried with any other crowd the result could have been disastrous, but in Oxford, everyone filed very civilly through the door; there was no trouble, no rioting, the only thing on people’s minds was to hear more from such an inspiring band.
Augustines finally finished their set, crammed into the bar of one of Cowley Road’s smallest pubs, with the fitting ‘New Drink for The Old Drunk’, afterwards staying to enjoy the hospitality and express their gratitude for the support and admiration of the crowd. “This is the best night of my life!” McCarthy had proclaimed from atop the cajon. It was certainly one of the best of mine. Seriously, go and see this band, it is an experience you will never forget.