What are we to make of this Mike + The Mechanics album launch party on the back of a nearly completed UK tour and a recent high profile Royal Albert Hall date?
The answer is probably that the band wish to pause for breath, plunder some advance PR for their April 17th album release and realign the troops before heading off on the second European leg of their tour later in the year.
The showcase is a triumph of the staple virtues of well crafted songs, soulful harmonies, undulating melodies and potent hooks over the typical album launch hubbub.
Self evidently they have strong new songs which fleetingly evoke the harmonies and hooks of The Eagles, but are closer to the pop sensibilities of Crowded House. It’s melodic pop-rock, shot through with a commercial imperative captured in a musical arc that conjoins the mid 90′s to the present.
Tonight finds the band in unplugged mode with a coherent set list that focuses our attention on the twin vocal strengths of Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar. The result is a broad-based musical palette that places extra emphasis on lilting melodies and strong hooks.
The band reformed on 2010 with soul meister Andrew Roachford taking over the enduring vocal legacy left by the late Paul Young and his replacement Paul Carrack.
This line-up is already six years old and both Roachford and the versatile Howar stamp their own imprint on proceedings with a more soulful approach full of understated power and built on the double vocals and the band’s three-pronged songwriting depth.
Despite being mainly stuck behind his keyboards, Roachford is the focal point. He has a unique ability to make a song his own, with an effortless range and some emotive phrasing that can lift a song while creating the illusion that he is singing to every person in the room on a one-to one-basis.
Tim Howar provides the perfect foil and counterpoint as he shifts from lead vocals to bv’s and back again, alongside a keyboard player who doubles on bass and vocal duties.
The set opens thematically with the subtle groove of ’The Best Is Yet To Come’, which resolves itself on a significant hook and is a perfect example of the band’s attention to detail.
Mike Rutherford alluded to this in a pre-gig Q&A session which exuded an optimistic vibe that reflects his confidence in both the band and the new material.
When pressed, he suggested there was no big plan for his 30 year old side project other than the need to write songs. His fellow band members are clearly buoyed by an equilibrium that suits everybody and gives Roachford enough room to revel in the variety of the material and the big wall of sound.
Rutherford is a subtle guitarist whose musical stature matches his height, as he adds telling motifs and intricate lines on a mini set full of songs that rise and fall like a gentle wave.
The band’s music also has a vaguely familiar feel to it and is driven by lilting melodies and hooks bordering on the commercial.
The new conceptually uplifting title track features Roachford on vocals and keyboards as Howar adds a top line on the chorus. And things get even better on the wonderful refrain of the evening’s highlight ‘Don’t Know What Came Over Me’. It’s a song that is the perfect meeting of lyrical intent and a sumptuous melody as it envelopes the senses.
It also provides the moment when the band really connects with the crowd, and in the greater scheme of things it also confirms they still have much to offer.
Curiously ‘Wonder’ struggles to make the same emotional connection and veers worryingly towards boy-band territory, though the arrangement sensibly leaves enough room for the vocalists to bring feel and poise to a song with crossover appeal.
There’s an undoubted flow to the set, bolstered by the end of a tour vibe that initially translates into a relaxed feel with plenty of smiles. Unexpectedly they finish with a bang, as ‘Over My Shoulder’ sparks unfettered excitement in the crowd, with mass outbreaks of wild improvised dancing and celebratory punches in the air.
Clearly Mike + The Mechanics still have plenty left in the tank and for the closing five surreal minutes an MOR band plays host to punk like celebrations as the power of music triumphs over expectation.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes at MHP Studios
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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