2019 was a mixed year for GospelbeacH. Their fourth album ‘Let It Burn’ was released to critical acclaim in October, just two months after the death of Neal Casal, whose exquisite guitar playing is one of the features of the record. Tonight, GospelbeacH main man Brent Rademaker paid tribute to Casal with some warm words and by calling upon the audience to observe a few moments of silence in his memory. The silence was impeccably observed. However, it was arguably the band’s wonderful trademark Californian sound, brought alive tonight in a scintillating performance, that was their most fitting tribute of all.
This was GospelbeacH’s third visit to Manchester, each time playing a slightly bigger venue than previously. Tonight, the Soup Kitchen was by no means full, but a good crowd was in attendance and seemingly in the mood to enjoy themselves. A few teething problems with the sound were overcome before Rademaker declared “This is Miller Lite” and the band launched into their lively opening number. ‘Strange Days’, ‘Dark Angel’ and ‘Hangin’ On’ followed in quick succession before the show was slowed down by a problem with what Rademaker described as his “Johnny Marr pedal,” adding that he always liked to pay homage to the local heritage. It was at this moment that he also chose to pay his tribute to Neal Casal.
Relaunching the set with ‘Bad Habits’ the band drew on all four of their albums to deliver a well curated show where newer songs like ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Let It Burn’ sat comfortably alongside live favourites such as ‘California Steamer’ and ‘In The Desert’. Throughout, the band walked a tightrope between using their undoubted musicianship to deliver a polished and professional sound, balanced against their natural inclination to let go, rock out and have a good time. Too much of the former can lead to a sterility, too much of the latter can be shambolic. GospelbeacH achieved the perfect balance in conjuring up a show that was both raw and energetic whilst at the same time tightly held together; that’s pretty much the perfect rock show by any definition.
Following ‘Mick Jones’, drummer Ian McCutcheon marched offstage, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the rest of the band had stayed put. Calling him back Rademaker told the audience that he didn’t really go in for the all the showbiz theatrics that surrounded encores, so they would just stay where they were and play. The first ‘encore’ was ‘Baby (It’s Not Your Fault)’ after which Rademaker asked the audience whether they wanted to hear a Bob Dylan song or a GospelbeacH song. The response was overwhelmingly in favour of GospelbeacH, so we were treated to ‘I’m So High’ followed by ‘Fighter’.
Having been informed that was the end of proceedings, a chant of ‘one more song’ went up, to which the band responded by playing that Dylan number after all. ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’, famously covered by The Byrds on ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ was enthusiastically sung along to by an appreciative crowd. Rademaker’s proclamation that “Manchester audiences are the best!” sealed a reciprocal love between artist and audience. Everyone, it seemed, was having a good time.
When the band finally left the stage, there was universal agreement that we had all witnessed a very special show. GospelbeacH had brought a ray of California sunshine to these shores as the nation was going through severe storms and record rainfalls. Their blend of Byrdsian pop, Laurel Canyon sounds and a dash of psychedelia , combined with strong songwriting and genuine stage presence, make them one of the best live bands doing the rounds right now.
Prior to GospelbeacH’s set, Manchester based support act The Swells performed an impressive warm-up set. With three guitars and twin vocals, the band’s repertoire ranged from jangly guitar pop to more drawn out psychedelic jams. Without being derivative, it was clear that they had taken in a lot of Big Star and Wilco in forging their own sound. However, whilst the music was impressive, they may need to work on their stage craft. Having drawn many in to their mesmeric sound, they failed to even say who they were, let alone how potential fans might follow up their interest. This was a real pity because they certainly impressed a good number of those present, many of whom may well have been up for more.