I've been to many great gigs, but few have been - or, I suspect, will be - as special as the launch of Augustines' self-titled second album at the Lexington on Tuesday 21 January. In many ways, playing the Lexington was a homecoming for Brooklyn residents Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson and Rob Allan. It was in this tiny venue above a North London pub where they launched their debut album Rise Ye Sunken Ships in the UK and Europe back in 2012, complete with a bottle of champagne passed around the fans (as my Dad, who was lucky enough to have been there, reports). Drummer Rob is also from Islington originally, so his family and friends came out to support, including his father who stars in the video for the first single from the new album, 'Cruel City'. But most importantly, this fans-only gig, which reportedly sold out in just four minutes, brought together all the most hardcore Augustinites in London, showing so much love for the band that they seemed genuinely overwhelmed by it.
A constant refrain in praise of Augustines is that they wear their hearts on their sleeves like no other band. Their obvious delight at being able to perform for us, and earnest desire to put on the best show the possibly could made it an absolute joy to be there - two days later, I still have a perma-smile, and I was so hyper after the show that those who saw me assumed I'd consumed a massive amount of drugs. Despite needing a shot of steroids in his ass that morning to fight off illness, nothing would stop Billy rocking out, even ripping his trousers while launching himself head-first into Rob's drum kit.
With the addition of another Englishman, Al Hardiman, on trombone, Augustines sound even better than when I saw them back in 2012 at Thekla, Bristol. On anthems like 'Chapel Song', 'Jaurez' and 'Book of James' they made a huge sound, impossible not to rock out to, which made the acoustic, sing-along versions of songs like 'East Los Angeles' and 'New Drink for the Old Drunk' all the more touching. At the same time, Billy bore his soul to us, not only through the lyrics - which tell heartbreaking stories while emphasising perseverance over adversity - but in his frequent talks to the audience. The story of his visit to the doctor that morning was a reminder of the fragility of a man who been through so much yet remains determined to get the most out of life. He also told us about the feeling of alienation in New York which led him on a trip down to Mexico, then up through Alaska, before finally reaching the San Francisco coastline and admitting he was as lost as ever: the inspiration behind the new song 'Walkabout'. It seemed to be a feeling a lot of us in the crowd related to, and his solo acoustic version of the song was one of the most emotionally intense moments I've ever experienced at a gig.
After the show, I corned Billy on his way to the bar, but was so overwhelmed by the show that I just about managed to splurt 'That was amazing, I love you so much!' while shaking terribly from an adrenaline overdose. I imagine Augustines are used to this kind of reaction by now (at one notable gig in Paris, a whole bunch of women climbed on stage and started pawing at them), but that they always seem so surprised and pleased by it is just another reason to love them even more.
Augustines will be back in London on 14 April 2014 playing Koko. Click here to listen to Augustines interviewed by Dermot O'Leary on Radio 2 and performing new song 'Nothing To Lose But Your Head' as well as a cover of Phosphorescent's 'Song For Zula'.