The thrilling debut album from this intense New York City trio makes their city feel alive once again
Starsailor : London WC1 Astoria
...it's plain sailing...
No two ways about it, NME and Starsailor go way back. We were there when James Walsh took his first faltering steps on a London stage for an acoustic night at the Social. We put them on at the Monarch for one of our infamous 'Bring It On' nights. And, of course, they returned the favour last year by playing not one but two NME Awards Shows: a stunning headline appearance and that historic charity double-header with Travis. Heck, there are even some in this office who claim to remember seeing Walsh busking outside WH Smiths in Chorley.
Since then, however, you could be forgiven for thinking that there's been a parting of ways. Lest we forget, Starsailor inadvertently helped coin the phrase 'You cock' when they fell foul of the Gallagher tongue. And their afternoon appearances at last summer's V2002 festivals were laboured, pompous even, with a cellist and three gospel singers adding 'authenticity' but not much in the way of soul, especially when they lurched joylessly through Ben E King's 'Stand By Me'.
So, once again, Starsailor find themselves at the Astoria with plenty to prove. Opener - and new track - 'Music Was Saved' effortlessly demolishes any grudges. It's got a 'Pounding'-style northern soul beat and is the most direct - not to mention noisy - three minutes they've written so far. After that, it's plain sailing.
The first thing that's noticeable is how they've beefed up their sound. Walsh plays electric guitar throughout, with 'Love Is Here' getting the full-on wah-wah treatment and 'Tie Up My Hands' being transformed from the album's plaintive lament into an anthem of 'Creep'-like proportions (with Walsh assuming a crucufixion pose at the climax). He's clearly been taking night-classes at rock frontman school. He starts 'Alcoholic' bathed in white light, with his guitar slung behind him like like sweaty stadium icon Bruce Springsteen and spends most of 'Born Again' in the photographers' pit, visible only by his preacher man's pointing hand.
His patter has got better as well. Where once he could only a muster a drippy "ta very much" at the end of every song, tonight he makes jokes at the expense of Gareth Gates, Coldplay and Gallagher Sr.. "I think that you should know that me and Noel Gallagher have patched things up" Walsh trills. "He gave me some songwriting advice, actually. He said, 'if you've written something that you think is utter wank make sure it's got a good chorus...'" The faithful respond by singing along to every song like the Kop on derby day.
Inevitably, there are encores. First Walsh appears solo, calling to mind those busking days by effortlessly grafting chunks of U2's 'Where The Streets Have No Name' and Neil Young's 'The Needle And The Damage Done' onto 'Lullaby'. They even play 'All Or Nothing' from NME's War Child album, '1 Love'. As 'Good Souls' pounds by, punctuated by strobes, dry ice and the entire crowd waving their hands like a warehouse rave it becomes clear that this band are genuinely loved. And if they can carry such form to Glastonbury and beyond, NME will join Starsailor in toasting a glorious future and forget our occasionally chequered past. Just don't mention Phil Spector.
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