Shepherd’s Bush Empire
15th May 2010
Stood at the front of the stage watching Mostly Autumn, all sounds good until Olivia Sparnenn begins to sing. She opens her mouth and those at the front can hear………nothing. Now that’s not entirely true. There were times during the first two songs when we could hear Olivia and Bryan Josh were singing but the words they offered were lost in the bass-y sounds which gather and stagnate at the front of this auditorium and drown out all else.
As I explored other areas of the arena, I found that you could hear the vocals (and keyboards) just fine. Similarly when Mostly Autumn heading into more balladic territory and less of a pounding line was required from their accomplished bassist, Andy Smith, there was no problem hearing the vocal lines from the front of the auditorium and you could even occasionally hear some treble in the guitar sounds.
The Shepherds Bush Empire has gradually crept up the list of desirable venues to play in the capital city but its reputation needs also to reflect a good deal of disrespect for the owners lack of attempts to deal with the appalling sound reproduction which is not caused by bad mixing, or poor sound equipment, or bad engineering but simply the venue’s lack of suitability to give the rock bands who play there a chance of producing their best sound. This is particularly shameful since rock is very much the Empire’s stock in trade. Add this to the peculiar height of the stage and you have a problem with no current solution. You can stand at the front for the best view but get sound where everything else is drowned out by the gathered reverberating bass or you can stand further back and get decent (but not great sound) but a peculiar view of the band. My recommendation is that you pay the extra fiver and sit at the front of the balcony. But let’s be honest it shouldn’t be this way.
The venue is not the only problem that Mostly Autumn face at the moment. Since their last studio release and since I last reviewed one of their live shows, lead singer Heather Findlay has left the band. The cracks had begun to show before her departure with some difficult live performances and a solo jaunt for co-leader Bryan Josh. Like many bands before them they have chosen to fill the gap from within. Olivia Sparnenn was previously on backing vocals and percussion. There’s no question she is growing into the role but she is still a little awkward and ungainly.
With the change in line-up the band has decided to jettison from the setlist most everything from recent discs and with no new release yet available, this is a setlist steeped in the early part of their career.
Vocal audibility problems not withstanding, some material is stronger than the rest and it isn’t until the second half of the set that the band really come into their own.
A ballad from Ms. Sparnenn’s time with Breathing Space is a triumph and the closers “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die” show the band at their majestic best. Bryan Josh’s guitar, Anne-Marie Helder’s flute and Olivia’s vocals mean that the audience will go home remembering that they enjoyed this band far more than the dull, repetitive, headliners, Wishbone Ash, but, oh, this should have been so much better.