When The Magpie Salute were last in the UK they played a now legendary residency at Under The Bridge rocking the venue for four nights and never playing the same song more than once. So when Rich Robinson proclaims tonight, “We played that one last night but we like it so thought we’d play it again,” you could be fooled into thinking this show might be a similar affair. Tonight’s performance, though, was more about promoting the new album so sadly for the travelling fans this wasn’t going to be the case.
Fresh from an earlier in-store appearance at Rough Trade East for the launch of their first studio album, ‘High Water I,’ The Magpie Salute find themselves welcomed by an appreciative, if sometimes rowdy, sold out audience at Hackney’s inappropriately named Oslo venue. This time out it’s not the full band but a stripped down acoustic squad of Rich Robinson, Marc Ford and John Hogg (the billed trio), fleshed out by keyboardist Matt Slocum.
Opening with ‘High Water’ the title track off their latest release it’s nice to hear that singer John Hogg is finding his own voice. For those who witnessed The Magpie Salute’s previous tour it was predominantly a set of Black Crowes covers but his performance tonight proves that he’s anything but a Chris Robinson clone. It’s a welcome relief that he’s finally getting the chance to stretch his vocal vocabulary, albeit with harmonies from Robinson and Ford accompanying his towering delivery. Complementing twin lead guitars also harmonise in the mix, and the piano is used sparingly but to good effect. Some would argue that the instrumental breaks are overly long but solo excursions aren’t a surprise to those familiar with the band’s pedigree in The Black Crowes and this continues throughout the night, albeit to a lesser extent. ‘Mary the Gypsy,’ again from the new album, follows – a rallying protest song where Ford shows his impressive guitar skills as he plays around broken strings. This leads to some light-hearted relief while there’s some juggling of guitars which allows singer Hogg to have a quick chat and crack a few jokes with his British brethren – something of a departure from the normally shy figure who ordinarily remains somewhat eclipsed by Rich Robinson. It’s not long, however, before the music resumes with the uptempo barrelhouse blues of ‘Hand in Hand’ and this certainly gets the crowd excited before leading into a respectful silence for the melancholic ballad, ‘Sister Moon,’ the lead single from the new album.
The audience are quickly reminded that John Hogg isn’t the only capable lead vocalist in the band and are treated by ‘The Vulture,’ a dark brooding Marc Ford solo song in the vein of Neil Young. This is followed by a trio of songs sung by Rich Robinson which includes ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo & The Bunnymen and Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘You Don’t Have to Cry.’ Both are well performed covers that integrate well with the rest of their set. Hogg returns to vocal duties for the remainder closing the show with three more songs from ‘High Water I’ and then a triple onslaught of Black Crowes covers as encores: ‘Bad Luck Blue Eyes’, ‘Cold Boy Smile’ and ‘Wiser Time,’ the latter giving the crowd something to sing along to.
Given the band’s origins, comparisons to The Black Crowes are inevitable but The Magpie Salute are stepping out from the shadows to develop their own sound and character. If you were hoping to see either the remnants of The Black Crowes or the version of The Magpie Salute from their last visit to the UK you’d be disappointed as this is very much a new band. The west coast styled harmonies may be something of an acquired taste but there was no sign of a disgruntled fan among the happily varied selection of rockers, jammers, and ex-hippies in attendance. Although they’re all magnificent musicians, none of the members are standout frontmen and you’re unlikely to hear any stories behind the songs. But it’s gratifying to see ex-band mates growing beyond their genesis and experimenting as a collective again with original material. While the Robinson brothers argue as to whom is the king crow(e), this is very much the future for Rich Robinson and Marc Ford, and hopefully they’ll return to these shores with the full electric band to allow these songs the expansion they so richly deserve.