The Lost Brothers live in Liverpool
Leaf Café, Liverpool
Friday 2nd February 2018
Liverpool’s Leaf Cafe is a haven away from the shops, takeaways, lunatics and the sheer madness of Concert Square a mere street away. On a Friday night, Concert Square and its surrounds of the Ropeworks are reminiscent of a battlefield after a particularly nasty incursion. Hordes of hen parties, gangs of stag parties and a flotsam of fighty football fans weave their way through the narrow streets in search of cocktails, beer offers, club nights and, well, exotic dancers. That the Lost Brothers are playing live this close to that is an odd juxtaposition as you weave through the crowds towards Bold Street.
Leaf Café sits in a beautiful art deco building, a Tea Room in the 1920s, a Cinema in the late 20th century and a clothes shop most recently, the walls of this place could probably tell some stories. And telling stories is pretty much what this evening is all about. The lights go down around half eight, the festoon lights go up and neither of those things has any impact on the noise of the crowd. Remarkable really.
As a solo act, Niamh Rowe is a wonderfully odd proposition. Normally one part of The Sundowners, a raucous acoustic troupe, on her own she straddles a strange line between Patsy Cline and The Animals. She plays new solo work, older tracks and a couple of covers, including a beautiful Emmylou Harris cover. As with any opening act she fights against the din of chatters and catcher uppers at the back, yet she seems surprised by the reception and applause. She needn’t have been, it was a pretty perfect start.
Dave O’Grady from Seafoam Green doesn’t take prisoners. As the room fills up so too do the glasses and alongside that the volume increases twofold. For Dave’s first two songs the noise becomes almost unbearable. He very ably tells everyone to STFU in a wonderfully welcome Dublin accent. I can’t say I blame him. If you’re going to pay good money into a gig you should understand that someone, somewhere, sweated over what you should see before the main act. As much as I hate the term, they curated this thing with you in mind. Honestly.
That aside, Dave’s STFU does something of a trick, the round of applause that followed played on the minds of at least some of the perky punters. Those that were listening would probably have enjoyed his gravelly, southern tinted country, folk and blues tunes. Mid Atlantic accents bother me as a rule of thumb but with Dave’s beard, hat and demeanor mean he gets away with it. Just. His final track, dedicated to and written about his ‘Mama’ is preceded by a brief but stern lecture on gig etiquette that amazingly does the trick. If his mother is indeed his oldest friend, she would be proud of the response to his song and stern tones. I know I was impressed.
For the Lost Brothers, this is a homecoming of sorts. The duo of Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech hail from Ireland but seem to come from some other, far off place. Hailing from Omagh and Navan, respectively, they met in Liverpool while at University. The rock bands they were in were doing well but clearly didn’t cover their bases. As a duo, they signed to Liverpool’s own Deltasoncic Records and their first album followed in quick succession. Their latest album, their fifth, comes from lofty places. It includes three songs with Glen Hansard, written over noodles by a roaring fire in Dublin. The remainder was written around the West Coast of Ireland and recorded at the wonderfully named Dust and Stone Studios in Arizona with Howe Gelb at the helm. The album has garnered rave reviews with words like exquisite, melancholy, subtle and spellbinding being thrown around with near wanton abandon.
The Brothers roll into Liverpool taking their first, wobbly baby steps of an impressive tour with an equally list of shows to get through. They are booked everywhere from Ballybofey to New York City via Perth and Austin, so this is an early start to a busy couple of months.
The noise abated a little as the Brothers took to the stage. If anything, it was down to a dull roar. They take to their set with a determination all their own. To add a little something else, they have a special guest in the shape of one Bill Ryder Jones of The Coral fame, a West Kirby lad much loved round these parts. His slide guitar makes a rare enough appearance but adds a sweetness and touch of fuzz where needed. Given that these guys have history it would be easy to suggest no one is getting an early night.
The comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel, to Dylan, to a host of country and blues artists are easy but their sound is uniquely their own, especially in this incarnation, there is less subtlety, a sense of impatience in their tales. The thing with these two is this ease in which they do this, the relationship, the bond they have on stage makes this an easy show to watch and by the looks of it, play. There is a comfort on stage that emanates through the room. Their harmonies are pitch perfect, their voices complement each other beautifully and the energy between the two built over ten years on the road is more than apparent. Their tone and banter are such that when they have to slag off the chatters in the cheap seats no one seems offended. It’s almost effective. Almost.
These are songs of redemption, lost loves, heartbreak, and life on the road. That’s not to say their sound or their stories are depressing, there is a light at the end of every tunnel they drive us into, its uplifting, hopeful and at times joyous. They end with a song called ‘Under the turquoise sky’, a tale of leaving a lover behind as you drift off into the sunset. As they set sail for home and as we are bound for foreign shores, or the 86 bus at any rate, the hope in the tale steels us for the outside world and whatever Bold Street and Concert Square throws at us.
Godspeed you brother, godspeed.