Magpie Salute’s six acoustic shows form a small European tour which ends at the small, intimate, Oslo in North East London. It coincides with the release of High Water I (reviewed here) their first album of newly self-penned material. For these shows they are trimmed down to a four-piece consisting of two former Black Crowes’ members, Rich Robinson (guitar/vocals) and Marc Ford (guitar/vocals) with Matt Slocum (keyboards), alongside Magpie, Jon Hogg (vocals). They enter to a heroes’ welcoming on to the tiny stage, set up with three horizontally lined stools at the front for Rich, Marc, and John while Matt is situated at the side of the stage.
Due to the gig reportedly selling out within minutes, an earlier show was arranged at Rough Trade East shop prior to this; one assumes they’ve only just got here through the trials and tribulations of East London’s early evening traffic. On their last extensive electrified tour, they had a 170-songs repertoire at their disposal consisting of Black Crowes’ numbers and covers. But tonight, unsurprisingly, they pluck mostly from High Water I. From the opening song of High Water the intricate weaving between Rich’s and Marc’s finger-picking and chord playing is an immediate attention-grabbing delight, which never diminishes throughout the hour-and-a half-set; their chemistry still burns brightly.
Rich and Marc ensure the guitar tech has a busy night swapping guitars, and when Marc breaks a string (the only occasion) during second song ‘Mary the Gypsy’, his perseverance is greeted with a near riot of applause and whooping, which unleashes a largely crowd-led banter. It feels like a huge release by an audience desperate to make their presence known, and play their part in the show. They do, however, show a respectful silence during the songs, while the unwavering enthusiasm and loud approval treatment is reserved for the appropriate moments.
The four members themselves are quieter, and at times seem taken aback by the response. As they continue with ‘Sister Moon’, and a much audience-approved cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘Killing Moon’. One of the standout elements of the show is the rich, warm, waves of harmonies between all three seated bandmates, which elevate and enhance many of the songs, but especially ‘For the Wind’. These naturally implied harmonies – coinciding with the soulful, but occasional gritty vocals of John Hogg – melt into the fabric of the songs with elegant ease, as in the case of the belting vocal display on ‘Send Me an Omen’, the final song before a short break.
Then, probably what most of the crowd have been waiting for – a couple of Black Crowes’ numbers: ‘Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye’ and ‘Wiser Time’ are duly met with loud crowd singalong participation before we say our goodbyes; but this just feels like the beginning of the Magpie Salute journey. With an American tour planned for later this year, which sees the band restoring itself to a sextet, the hope is they will return for a full-band electrified European tour next year, one suspects to coincide with the 2019 scheduled High Water II album. Tonight’s show whets the appetite appropriately for more Magpie Salute activity hopefully to come.