Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles @ Thimblemill Library, 23rd June 2017

Tonight’s show was originally scheduled for the wholly familiar surroundings of Kings Heath’s Hare and Hounds pub, though for reasons unknown, it was switched to the less familiar Thimblemill Library. The “switcheroo” could not have been much more of a polar revision: the shadowy recesses of the pub having been passed up in favour of the brilliantly bright art deco library. The decision offers up the opportunity for the building to share itself in a completely new way. Rather than the proverbial finger to the lips at the first instance of any noise other than the turning of the page of a book, tonight, the emphasis is on embracing the sounds generated by Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles.

The setting is just perfect. The dwindling summer light permeates the many windows which surround the stage, whist the sound of rustling trees and the hum of a distant motorcycle engine enter the open windows and swirl around the room. Once the music commences, these outside influences are added to the mix and really create a heady concoction and lend themselves to enhancing an already wonderful environment in which to witness the band hailing from Nashville.

Though this is not Erin Rae’s first visit to these shores, it is her first visit to Birmingham, and the numbers in attendance tonight is mightily impressive, given Rae’s limited output up until now. The first song of the set is ‘Light,’ taken from her 2016 album, ‘Soon Enough’. The union of Rae and her two band members – The Meanwhiles, Dominic Billett and Jerry Bernhardt – is sublime. Jerry Bernhardt’s guitar playing is so subtle, with no note unaccounted for or present for the sake of it. His flourishes, though tinged with that sound of the South, they remind me of Nick McCabe’s contribution to The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’ album. The understated playing is so lacking in ego and the focus is solely upon enhancing the song.

The standout performance of the evening is unequivocally Rae’s latest release ‘Playing Old Games’, a song which was recently listed in the most highly rated americana releases on Spotify. Indeed, it is the newest material which makes up the set which entices most. All of which will emerge at some point later this year on Rae’s latest album release. In addition to Rae’s own material, there is a stunning rendition of the late great Judee Sill’s, ‘Jesus Was A Cross Maker’. It is with much excitement that I await the release of Rae’s next official release, and with that, comes the hope that she will venture to these parts again in the not too distant future.

 

Reviewer: Chris Curtis

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Some bands never reach the finish line, instead falling at the first hurdle. Some make it a little further and fall at the third hurdle; for that, read “difficult third album”. Some bands reach the finish line in record time and collapse in a hyperventilating heap, hype being the operative word. Some bands however never reach the finish line. They can can set their own, have it moved from in front of them or just jump across into a different track. Embrace fall firmly into the latter category. They don’t need to re-invent themselves by jumping tracks, they might have stuttered in the past when the line was moved by record labels, but equally, they set their own finish lines, run their own race and at their own pace. This year sees the band release their latest single, the beautiful orchestral string strewn, “The Finish Line”, complete the recording of their new album, “Love Is A Basic Need”, perform a short run of six dates on this tour, and finish with a headline slot at Shiiine Weekend in mid-November. Oh…. and the small matter of two dates at Principality Stadium, Cardiff supporting their old mates Coldplay. Tickets for this intimate Slade Rooms gig and all others on this tour sold out in next to no time, many going before general release and to their dedicated following. You can see this at most of their gigs where you will see the same faces night after night gathered together in a few local hostelries pre-gig. So, here we are at a sold-out Slade Rooms, intimate for a band with such history, awaiting their arrival on stage. Coming on to the dying strains of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” they are welcomed like heroes. Like a band that has been around enough to have a set of crowd-pleasers in their bag which is precisely what they proceed to treat us to. A greatest hits package with a big lump of soon-to-be-crowd-pleasers to back up their still-got-it credentials. Opening with “Protection” from the last album with almost New Order-like echoes, they are quickly into their stride as they launch directly into one of their biggies, “All You Good Good People”. Almost twenty years old and still as fresh as it was in the 90s. It glides on disc, but live it positively soars and Danny McNamara uses his arms in the gesticulations of a football manager telling his players to get up the pitch. Here it is to lift the whole crowd in the first of several singalongs. They instantly oblige. “Nature’s Law” is another song that builds and then soars followed by a newer one, “Follow You Home” with “Oh,ohh! Oh ohh!” singalongs. We’re then back into crowd fave territory with “Come Back To What You Know” which lets the crowd stretch their lungs again. Newer tracks like “Refugees”, preceeded by “Where You Sleeping”, and both sung by guitarist Richard McNamara, and the latest single “The Finish Line” sit as easy as any other song in the set. If you don’t know the words, and so many of the people there tonight do know them, every single word, then there is sure to be a belter of a hit along shortly that you can sing to. The last five of the set are total killer hits; “One Big Family”, early full on Indie hit and anthemic growler that gives it’s name to the online social media group that follow the band with extreme zest. Next the emotional “Gravity” which, whilst being penned by Chris Martin of Coldplay and given firstly to tonight’s heroes , it is undoubtedly fully Embrace. “Someday” from the same album, and one of my personal faves, drifts over the venue dripping reverb and gentle feedback on the heads of all of us, before leading into the set closer, “Ashes”. Cue another bouncer of a song; uplifting, soaring and  full of phoenix from the ashes positivity. All the way through the set Danny McNamara has urged us onwards, those waves of the arms looking like he is almost trying to physically lift the audience and make us soar the same way that the songs soar. How close he is to doing that is hard to say but it was close enough that it means that the band are not getting back to their tour bus alive if they don’t oblige us an encore. A couple of tracks from the new album include a duet with a young lady called Eevah (?) who has the sort of vocals that much of the generic dross on X-Factor would give their right Autotune to have! 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