I’ve always admired Tall Ships live, it’s an experience to see their powerful riffs build and mix with heartfelt and genuinely touching keys and vocals. Frustratingly, due to delays in releasing new album Impressions, the recent dates have turned into a pre-release tour rather than excuse to go mad with new material. Everything Touching was released five years ago, a fact the band often referenced onstage, rhetorically and self-deprecatingly asking what they had been up to all this time, supposedly being “busy growing hair and beards.” This is evidently true, but they have also been perfecting a new, better worked collection of songs. Lead single ‘Will to Life’ was released over a year before the announcement of the album, the growing anxiety and worry in the singles are mirrored by the crowd at tonight’s gig.
Tall Ships hooked me when I saw them (two nights in a row) as a support band, however the same can sadly not be said of tonight’s support, who I am sure are lovely people with perfectly agreeable songs, but the pressure of being in a deserted room, with only projected speckles reminiscent of an audience only lifeless, without movement or breathe. Despite feeling bad I denied request from the band themselves to move forward and instead moved to the downstairs bar, to drink the only available cider and feel generally less awkward before the main event. Apologies, and maybe next time.
We stand probably two metres from the stage expecting the venue to fill up around us, it certainly is a joy to look at, a creviced stage and excellent choice in wallpaper. ‘Will to Life,’ ‘Gallop’ and ‘Meditations on Loss’ race past us, a barrage of force that prove the band are at the now top of their game after the absence and frustration. Latest release ‘Petrichor’ is a brilliant, punchy, tender cocktail, but the crowd still don’t seem to have moved at any point, yet they can guess which old song comes next. ‘Phosphorescence’ audience member cries, yes the band respond, but still no movement from audience member who clearly loves and couldn’t wait to hear his favourite song, played fantastically (poor quality video below.)
The band play through a mixture of old and new, ‘Day by Day’ and ‘Books’ unexpected highlights, and new builder ‘Home’ seems to be the best version of a ‘Tall Ships-3-songs-in-1’ we’ve heard yet. I still feel worried to sing and move my feet, the band awkwardly fill the stark silence between songs, unsure how to handle the quiet space probably reminiscent of their rehearsal space. T=0, still their greatest song, loses some of its effectiveness when centralized in the setlist, and should only ever be used to open a gig. The audience finally find their voices during old favourite ‘Vessels’ which consistently persists as one of their superior live moments, even if they’re writing has vastly improved since. They close with a frantic rendition of ‘Plate Tectonics,’ and the audience return to comfort in stillness.
Sadly, no matter how amazing the band are or how much exhilarating energy they give off the audience do not reciprocate. It’s befitting that a band like Tall Ships have a group of people in front of them that genuinely really want to be there, no disinterest from anyone, just an anxious nervousness that prevents them from singing, dancing, tapping their feet or . The atmosphere, just a little soured by fear, awkwardness and a lack of passion, unfortunately let the band down. They must have been surprised by the swarm of fans at the merch table greeting them post-gig, finding their voices enough to have a congratulatory conversation but not to sing at any point. All that said, Tall Ships remain one of my favourite live bands, they have a particular nervous energy woven through their increasingly anthemic and aggressive songs that do not disappoint, even when the crowd really do.
Highlights: Day by Day, Petrichor, Vessels
7/10 (Tall Ships 9/10, everything else 4/10)