Friday, December 07, 2012
MARK MULCAHY @ NIGHT & DAY 6 December 2012
About 3.30pm this afternoon I got rather over-excited by seeing an Instagram photo of a grown man playing an amusement machine in a motorway service station. Mark Mulcahy is somewhere off the M6 and will soon be in Manchester! Proper fanboy jitters. In the life of this blog I haven’t see Mark play live but in 2009 wrote about the tribute CD "Ciao My Shining Star". Gaps between seeing the Springfield, MA resident and ex-Miracle Legion front man are often long – for me 1995, 1999, 2000 (or possibly 2001) then 2005. This latest gap of seven years lengthened by the tragic circumstances of that 2009 album.
But somehow, amazingly, here is the man himself, larger than life in wide lapelled burgundy two-piece suit in the small confines of Night & Day reminiscing about previous solo and Miracle Legion Manchester shows with an uncannily sharp memory (“and before The Hacienda what was it called...yes The International!”). He is here for three English dates before joining the bill at All Tomorrow’s Parties as a guest of the curators The National. But he is also armed with new songs from a fourth solo album “due sometime early next year” and backed by Ken Maiuri on drums/keyboards/percussion (often at the same time) and Henning Ohlenbusch (“of the perfume family”) on bass and backing vocals.
The trio are an odd assortment of heights and shapes (cue some comedy mic stand adjustments as they exchange instruments or spots late in the evening) but play together in an enthralling, spontaneous almost intuitive manner. I have forgotten how physically bulky Mark Mulcahy is. He is a large man but very much the gentle giant, and one prone to sudden deviation and long pauses. In that suit and oversize brown boots he appears the down-at-heel supper club crooner, a decade or two out of touch with the modern world. As he moves across the stage initially, he appears ungainly getting caught up in his guitar lead or clumsily adjusting the microphone. But then he starts singing and something magical happens. He, as we the audience too, are transported somewhere else.
The set cleverly combines songs from all solo albums plus odd singles and EPs, five new songs, some Polaris and as part of the encores a Miracle Legion song. From early, tentative beginnings, we moved through intense, near-chaotic jangle-pop strumming (‘Saturnine’) to hushed, almost whispered harmonies (‘Can't Find A Reason‘ ) to a menagerie of comic animal noises for a new song set it seems in a zoo . And it just gets better and better from song to song: beautifully sharp story-telling with unflinching emotional detail where what is not said is as crucial as what is. Did I say a decade or two out-of-touch earlier?! Forget that this is powerfully authentic. A final ‘Bill Jocko’ is hair-raisingly immense it is octave-shifting grandeur.
For a moment it seems the prospect of no encores is a real one but then we get three. The spooky, jazzy theatrics of ‘The Cottage That We Rented Had A Name’ (B side to single ‘Low Birth Weight Child’ out 10 December), said Miracle Legion cover (there was a shout-out for ‘All For The Best’; “too greedy” was the response, more a statement than a reprimand) then the final solo heart-breaker ‘Hey Self-Defeater’. I could write another 500 words about how good this show was. And I still wouldn’t be finished. Fanboy jitters subsiding slowly but now we have a new Mark Mulcahy album to look forward to. And hopefully a shorter interval than seven years for a return UK visit.
The Set List
New Song (Where's The Rabbit?)
New Song (Impolite and Insecure?)
Can't Find A Reason
I Woke Up In The Mayflower
He's A Magnet
The Quiet One
Love’s The Only Thing That Shuts Me Up
Hurry Please Hurry
New Song (Zoo?)
Pasadena Love Story
The Cottage That We Rented Had A Name