Richmond Fontaine at Camden Electric BallroomSupport: Peter Bruntnell
October 21, 2016 at Camden Electric Ballroom
I’ve never knowingly attended a ‘farewell’ gig, probably because such events are normally thrown by large, well-established acts, looking for one more pay-out from the misty-eyed baby boomers before the artists retire to their trout farms. I expect those affairs are very much a celebration of tunes recorded long since, and are full of theatrical bows and band members hugging, teeth gritted, like the showbiz troopers they have become.
Willy Vlautin and the rest of Richmond Fontaine don’t even mention that it’s goodbye. They do admit from the offset to being only ‘half sober’, although that’s probably hardly unusual, and the opening song ‘$87 and a Guilty Conscience’ and the next few numbers are low-key and restrained in delivery.
If the band give no clue as to the occasion then the loud reception at the end of songs does possibly give some indication, with numerous shouts of ‘We love you, Willy!’ throughout. It is the songs, essentially, that we came for of course and what a fine selection we are treated to.
‘Don’t Skip Out On Me’ which in other bands hands could become a swaying, romanticised waltz seems slower and more fearful than the album version, this is still Richmond Fontaine, bleak is their M.O., whatever the circumstances.
’43’ however, is agitated, we seem to be dealing in real rock show dynamics, I get predictably excited and at point think – fuck documentation – enjoy and immerse yourself. Give an impression rather than a forensic report.
As it happened it was at that point I headed a couple of paces back towards the bar. It’s unusually quiet, with a few people drinking alone, crumpled under the red beer light. That is when, briefly, I felt fully ‘immersed’. These songs live without performance and inhabit dark corners of experience. Despite the actual, dismal reality, I grasp onto those moments, waiting for my watery pint as an epic ‘Northline’ soundtracks the barfly vibe.
It would have been easy to just bang out all the best loved numbers from Post To Wire and a few other treasured ‘oldies’, but of course Richmond Fontaine are not only too damn stubborn, they have just released as good an album as they have ever produced in ‘You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To’ and a fair selection of tracks get aired. ‘Wake Up Ray’ is warmly greeted and shows it’s no risky move or imposition and ‘One Night in the City’ is grimly brilliant, similar to Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night in it’s dark and wild despair.
A lot of these songs are based on real-life woes such as ‘Exit 194b’ which gets a rare outing, Willy’s skilled reminiscing before hand just about managing to add levity tale of a dead buddy.
‘Two Alone’ continues more to build a more expansive performance, it builds as it hums with tension. ‘Western Skyline’ ends set as the band begin to not just perform the songs but groove and feel the music. Guitarist Dan Eccles begins to shudder and thrash at his instrument, a man who always plays like a rocker whatever the mood of the song.
On the bands return the crowd reaction freaks Willy out, we all know it’s nearly over, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by that, but finish it must. It ends with ‘Four Walls’. No fireworks, no extended musical showboating, no curtain calls, just another damn fine sad song.
Thank you, Richmond Fontaine.