Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles, California
July 27, 2016
My feet are bruised, blistered and sore. My voice is gone, its nothing but gravelly and war-torn. My ears are ringing – still. My body is riding high on post-show adrenaline, while I try not to over-caffienate to over-compensate for only an hour’s sleep. But, all of it, every bit, was worth it. The Augustine’s Los Angeles show last night, in support of their new album “This Is Your Life”, was one of those live music experiences that will live on, and on, and reside among my list of best gigs ever.
Let’s start with the venue. The Bootleg Theater was a new one for me. I was both a Bootleg virgin, and an Augustines’ virgin (yes, lads, last night was my first time).
“The bar stage” was where the band was playing. It was on the small side of the theater, dark with high ceilings and a slightly elevated, barrier free stage. The bar looked more like the cafe counters at roller rinks from when I was a kid, and the sign that hung above, stating “Cocktails” was flipped upside down – something the singer of Augustines, Billy McCarthy, spoke on mid-show. It fit, that topsy-turvy view, right along with the odd art pieces and disco ball spinning its glittery lights on the stage.
The adjacent part of the building is set-up for dramatic performances, and is significantly larger than “the bar stage” room. In-between “the bar stage” and the bigger theater was an entry way that led to a patio – a patio which housed a retro and working photo booth.
Yes, my friends and I took advantage of it, being blinded by the too quick bright flash, and striking our very best pre-selfie poses. Then we found our spot to stand. My favorite area, side of the stage/stage right. We stood right near where the Augustines’ roadie would end up, and where some damn beautiful guitars were there hanging out, and waiting.
It would also be the side that Billy would take to, playing most of the set (when he wasn’t dancing around, bouncing around, or throwing himself to the ground) stage right.
The crowd started to make their way into the room, heating the place up rather quickly. I would say the heat was my only real complaint of the night, but that is often the case with indoor venues during the summertime months, in Los Angeles, so that was to be expected.
I had no prior listening experience with the opening act, Cobi, so I had no idea what we were in for. Cobi (Jacob Schmidt) took to the stage, with just a guitar.
At first glance, I was reminded of a younger Pete Yorn (probably due to the hair), but when he started singing – acoustically – it was Jeff Buckley that I was immediately reminded of. His voice was powerful, and at one point, when he began to wail, I got the flush of musically induced, all-over body chills. It was gorgeous.
When the rest of his band joined in, the music shifted into something fused between funk and classic rock n’ roll. His guitar playing was as impressive as his voice, though only the first song really stood out to me. Not that I didn’t enjoy the rest – I did – but that first number had blown me away so much that I never really fully recovered.
Cobi seemed to have a lot of fans in attendance, many singing-a-long to every song played. I was lost more in the guitar work, and hoping to hear him take me again to the emotional place the first song did. It never happened, but I am still seeking out more of his music, and would like to see him play live again – perhaps a longer set.
In-between the opener and headliner sets, a good portion of the crowd made their way out to the patio. The room had doubled in both occupancy and heat. We were all glowing with sweat and clamoring for some kind of breeze. We were also all buzzing in that way that happens pre-show, that anticipatory collective pulse that beats, somewhat erratically, within our chests while we both want the show to start, yet don’t want it to be over yet either.
In that waiting period, beers were tossed back, conversations went on between us and fellow fans, as well as a bit of chatting with the Augustines’ roadie about guitars and set-up and being a part of the show.
Then it was time.
IT WAS TIME.
Billy McCarthy came up on stage first, all big dimpled-smile, raucous laughter and a jovial/joker kind of persona that immediately drew us in. He had his signature fedora on, but tossed it off towards an amp, smiling even wider, then made his way over to the mic. He had this distinctive gait about him that seemed both light and lumbering, clumsy and precise, as his entire being lit up, seeming to be made of a manic energy. The rest of the band followed on-stage, and all together they set the place on fire.
We were all theirs from the start – unwaveringly so – from the first song, to the second encore – and we gave the band all of our sweaty, ready and willing, make us dance and sing and scream and laugh and cry and feel best. We loved them together, and felt loved right back.
It was this incredible experience of electricity and music that connected the room together. I haven’t experienced something that powerful in a long while.
I looked around the crowd many times during the show and never saw a bored, or unmoved experession. Never spotted faces glued to their “black mirrors”. On the contrary, everyone’s phones seemed only to be touched to hold up high and capture a piece of the music, and magic, happening onstage – whether in photographs, or videos. And no one was standing still.
Billy was beyond personable, beyond giving and generous, and fucking talented beyond my expectations. It was refreshing to see an artist – and an entire band – who looked happy being up there, who looked like they actually loved what they do.
And we were there, loving it, too.
All of us.
Billy’s hat returned eventually, and then was thrown off again. Billy threw his entire body to the ground – more than once, guitar in hand, fingers in place, singing and playing and rolling around. He kicked over an amp once, leapt up on the drum set twice to bounce off, and sang his fucking heart out.
I mean it, his heart was there, dangling on his sleeves, and from the arms of his guitars, bleeding and beating and making us all feel so fucking much.
Eric and Rob were amazing, too. Adding energy and humor and magic to the music. But, honestly, it was Billy who kept connecting us all to each other, to the music, and at times, to our own human experience. He said we were all at a picnic (oh, and no one gets laid at picnics, FYI), as we were sweaty and without food, but here drinking and singing together.
And he made me believe, at least for a night, that everything was going to be okay.
They played my two absolutely favorite Augustines’ songs – “The Chapel Song” (early in the set) and “Landmine” (during the first encore – this one made me cry). They played songs that have now become some of my favorites – especially live – “Weary Eyes” and “When Things Fall Apart”. I fell more in love with “Are We Alive”, “This Is Your Life”, “Nothing to Lose But Your Head” and “Walkabout”. And I loved Billy’s renditon of “Waltzing Matilda”
At the end of it all, Billy came to the front of the stage, all by himself.
No backup music.
And he sang his heart out to a stripped down, acapella version of “Running in Place”, which was one of the most moving, emotional, amazing things I have heard in a long time.
It left us all awestruck, and then had us all cheering together.
It was the wee hours of the night-turns-to-morning-time when the band came out to take a final bow together. I was drenched, sore everywhere, feet aching from dancing, ears ringing, and had the tick-tock reminder that I had to work the next day, and I didn’t care.
If Billy had asked us again if we were up for one more I would screamed YES.
I think we all would have.
Thank you, Augustines, for bringing music and magic and emotion and laughter and tears and soul and wonder to Los Angeles for a late July, hot, sticky night. I won’t forget it for a long, long time and I hope you all make it out this way again – sooner, rather than later.
We miss you here already.