Throwing their metaphorical hat in the ring, HMV are sponsoring tonight's event under the banner of The Next Big Thing. The irony of course is that HMV is seemingly becoming a considerably smaller thing with every passing minute. With a mass of 'new' bands performing over the space of 10 days, it is entirely plausible that at least one of them might fit the description of next big thing. On tonight's performance We Are Augustines could well be that band.
Formed from the wreckage of Pela, Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson regrouped, retooled the songs intended for that band's second album, and came out fighting with We Are Augustines. It is no surprise that there's a steely determination to the band; record label squabbles sowed the seeds of Pela's disintegration, while vocalist/guitarist McCarthy suffered personal tragedy when his brother James committed suicide.
We Are Augustines live are an entirely different entity to the one found on their debut album Rise Ye Sunken Ships. On record, they occasionally come across as overly earnest, which considering the subject matter of the songs (mental illness, suicide, and imprisonment for example) is hardly surprising, but when they hit the stage they're a frantic ball of energy. Bassist Sanderson in particular is never motionless, thrashing his bass within an inch of its life and mouthing every word in an impassioned mantra. Then there's McCarthy who possesses a voice that is aggressive, raw and filled with frayed emotion. It's impossible not to draw a parallel with Bruce Springsteen at times. McCarthy's vocals are undoubtedly similar, while the band's ability to write finely crafted rock about hardships and day to day life mean that sometimes they drift towards an aesthetic that has a lot in common with The Boss. A wide eyed belief and a distinct punk influence (which comes, in part from the band being a 3-piece), added to the mix ensures that We Are Augustines are a potent force live. The aggression that they attack their songs with adds a rougher and at times more vibrant edge to the material culled from Rise Ye Sunken Ships.
Yet despite the lyrical content of their songs, and the rocky road they've traversed to get this far, the band are a lot more fun than might be expected. McCarthy beams his way through the set, entering into friendly banter frequently, and musing on the fact that his band have played more shows in the UK than they have in his homeland. Sanderson meanwhile seems caught up in the joyful release that these songs appear to be peppered with. Augustine's laidback, almost rustic pop offers an island of light relief in the midst of a storm of chaotic anthems. Headlong Into The Abyss is a euphoric charge into the abyss (appropriately) and the closing one-two punch of their singles Chapel Song and Book Of James point towards a band capable of writing hook-laden songs that affect both the head and heart.
A shortened set actually plays to the band's advantage as their intensity never gets the chance to falter. Finishing with Book Of James (arguably their finest moment so far) leaves a palpable charge in the room and the audience in desperate need of more. On this evidence, We Are Augustines could be the next big thing. Hopefully they'll enjoy a longevity that seems to elude most artists tarred with that particular tag.