I’m a big fan of Richmond Fontaine. I wrote about how they make me feel here. Over the past weeks, they’ve been playing a farewell tour. I was desperate to see them one last time but, at the last minute, day job responsibilities got in the way. A good friend,Billy Bob Martin, stepped up to the plate and offered to review instead. Another friend, Michael Holmes, took ace photos.
For over 20 years Richmond Fontaine have been laying the musical soundtrack for Willy Vlautin’s stories of love, despair, lower-limb disfigurement, disappointment and horror. Tonight, they bring their show to town for the very last time and there’s a tangible sadness in the air as the mostly homogenous crowd of bearded 30-50 something-men clearly loves this band and the 3 dimensional characters woven through the melodies.
Tonight’s set opens with Vlautin in light-hearted mood, well, between songs at least. He thanks the promoters of the show for their long-standing support, before going on to admit that a lot of people have lost a lot of money giving Richmond Fontaine a platform over the years.
Aside from gentle banter and between song story-telling, tonight, there’s little let up from the bleaker end of the Richmond Fontaine canon. Stripped down to a four-piece, the lack of keyboards , pedal steel, female vocals or trumpet ensure the songs are rendered in good old bass, drums and two guitar format, and while it’s clear the band are enjoying the simplicity of this line-up, the songs lack the beauty historic line-ups delivered – need, this is a a classic rock and roll band we see before us, with all that’s wonderful and limiting about that format.
At times, the band sound like four young men jamming the Velvet Underground’s I Can’t Stand It and having a whale of a time, however, for those of us here to say goodbye to a band that’s soundtracked our middle-age for the past decade or longer, I suspect many were hoping for more ambition- although it’s difficult to chastise Richmond Fontaine for not delivering much mood-lifting relief, as anyone familiar with their back catalogue will attest.
A Night in the City is a stand-out track of the the band’s farewell album, dealing of course with self-loathing, disappointment with ones self and others, but tonight it is removed of any nuance by the limitations of a four-piece. 43, however, was delivered with genuine ferocity, driven by the remarkable drumming of Sean Oldham.
It’s not until the encore that the band decide to remind us that their songs can lift the spirit – Post to Wire and the anthemic set-closer Four Walls demonstrate that there is hope, optimism and romance in the songs of Vlautin, tinged with a fear that these feelings are fleeting, but it’s definitely there.
I would have loved to have joined you and Mikey there – sitting in an Oxford hotel room going over National Occupational Standards for Youth and Community Work wasn’t quite as rewarding as your night sounds.