Compared with the extensive touring of past years, Mostly Autumn have scheduled relatively few live appearances for the spring, summer and autumn of 2016, with a greater emphasis on showcase gigs and festivals. They came to the rock Mecca of The Robin 2 in Bilston a week after a high profile show in London, and like at that gig they drew the sort of appreciably sized crowd we’ve come to expect at this venue.
The last couple of years the band have been playing the album “Dressed in Voices” in it’s entirety as one half of the show, and over the course of three successive tours the other half went from an abbreviated greatest hits set, a collection of lesser played rarities, and finally the revival of their “Mostly Floyd” set. With “Dressed in Voices” now laid to rest for the time being at least, what they would play was a mystery for those who had carefully avoided spoilers, though we were told to expect one or two surprises.
They kicked off with the instrumental “Out of the Inn”, which starts off as a flute-driven Celtic-folk jig, led by Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson, with the rest of the band coming to stage one by one as the number builds into a barnstorming hard rocker. An unusual choice as an opener, but like “Distant Train” a couple of years ago, it worked well. After that came a fusillade of drums and Bryan Josh’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In For The Bite” from this year’s entertainingly bonkers Josh & Co album, which saw Olivia Sparnenn make her characteristic dramatic entrance. The huge smile on Bryan Josh’s face set the mood for the next two hours.
From then on it was songs from right across their career, played right through rather than taking a mid-set interval. There were standards from the early albums, such as “Answer the Question”, “Spirit of Autumn Past” and “Nowhere to Hide”. There were highlights from their more recent work’ a hard-rocking “Deep in Borrowdale”, “Drops of the Sun”, Olivia’s dramatic Nightwish-like “Wild Eyed Skies”, the drum showcase “Skin on Skin”, and the beautiful balled “Silhouette of Stolen Ghosts” from the bonus disk of “Dressed in Voices”. Chris Johnson sang lead on “Silver Glass”, one of his contributions to the band’s songbook from 2006′s “Heart Full of Sky”. But the highlight has to have been the epic “Mother Nature”, a song not played live for many years. They finished the main set with a powerful rendition of what has long been Olivia’s signature song, “Questioning Eyes”.
With the band still “in the zone” they took advantage of the lack of a strict curfew by throwing in an additional encore, a superb “The Last Climb” with its extended flute solo, before the obligatory “Heroes Never Die”. But even then they weren’t done. Bryan dismissed the closing recorded music and led the band into two more songs, both of them from last year’s Pink Floyd covers set, a monstrously rocking “Run Like Hell” and the guitar wig-out of “Comfortably Numb” with Olivia and Chris Johnson joining forces as the creepy doctor. You were left with the feeling they’d have been happy to play all night.
On the evidence of this gig, they’re on top live form this year, playing a good mix of old and new taking in material from across eight of their ten albums. In recent years they’ve been at their best on stage whenever they’ve managed to keep a consistent lineup together for more than a few months. The current incarnation with Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson returned to the fold has been together more than a year now, and it shows. Their next live appearance is the big one, opening for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in front of sixteen thousand people at the sold-out Genting Arena, before gigs in Tavistock, Poole and Cardiff in July.