As the trio stood there on the unadorned stage, it was almost painful to watch them introduce themselves to the scattered and very thin crowd. But then they started to play and the hard and heavy rock made you completely forget there were only about a dozen people present to watch. If Patrick Mulvaney on bass was the sturdy backbone, and Eric Moore on drums was the heartbeat, then lead singer/guitarist Justin Fremont was certainly the wild, pulsing body. He was all over the place, jumping off the stage, contorting and giving the entire performance a magnetic appeal.
The frenetic energy of the Roundheels was a great lead-in to the Augustines set, which was, as previously mentioned, unorthodox. Augustines -- comprised of drummer Rob Allen, multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson and vocalist/guitarist Billy McCarthy -- were at the Firebird for stop number 33 on a 37-show tour. And they looked it. They are touring in support of their self-titled sophomore release. When I say that they looked it, I mean that in the best possible way -- even though the first part of the show was sort of a mess.
Interspersed between songs were moments of wandering, extended stage banter on a wide range of topics including, "The Dark Crystal," "Willow," a whorehouse in East St. Louis, and the effects of taking unknown prescription medication. To say these breaks in the music were random would be true. To say that they were incredibly entertaining would be truer still. I would even go so far as to say that by the end of the band's two-hour set, the evening evolved into one of the most intimate shows I've seen.
During the first part of the show, we all stood in front of the stage looking up at the band as it played. Then, even before we all knew what was happening, McCarthy and Sanderson stepped off stage, into the crowd and finished the show right there with us. Sitting on the edge of the stage or standing up in the crowd, they played the rest of the set acoustic -- and it was beautiful.
This intimacy was largely created in the connection between the audience and Billy McCarthy's voice. His voice really carried the day. At the Firebird, it sounded haunting and slightly cracked to the point where I almost felt afraid that it would go out or stop altogether. What makes it so irresistible is that this elusive quality co-exists with a depth and strength that borders on the operatic. What his voice really does though is make all of Augustine's songs extremely personal. Whether it is husky or clear, it is emotional with red-faced passion. We were treated to several songs from the band's debut album "Rise Ye Sunken Ships," including "Book of James," "Augustines" and "Chapel Song." One of my favorite lines from that album is "I guess you're headin' somewhere or endin' up somewhere" from "Book of James." Augustines have gone through a lot of change individually and collectively. They changed their name and their line-up, but thankfully they have not changed their commitment to making music and performing.
The only constant is change. My take away from the Augustines show is that change is inevitable and ultimately, unimportant. It's how we respond that matters. Another one of my favorite lines speaks to this nicely: "Keep your head up kid/I know you can swim/But you gotta move your legs."