Richmond Fontaine – The Hare & Hounds – Birmingham Tuesday 19th April 2016

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.

 

Richmond Fontaine – Wake Up Ray

It must be a dozen years now since I first heard Richmond Fontaine. They were the flavour of the day in a magazine that I regularly read. I’d just moved into a little flat in the centre of the city. I worked from that flat and bought lots of CDs from the local record shop to stop myself from getting lonely. 

At night, I’d go to a bar just around the corner and drink. I never had much to get up early for and I enjoyed the company.

Different continent but similar desperation, I found something in the roaming bleakness of your typical Richmond Fontaine song. Their album, Post To Wire, was played a lot that year. Laced with dark humour and pedal steel guitar, this became the soundtrack to my summer. Here was an offer of particularly effective comedown music once the effects of the ecstasy and whisky had worn off.

When a local promoter put them on to play at the Music Cafe, it was a gig I had to go to. It was incredible. Willy Vlautin was a new Springsteen; his poetry and storytelling came from that place that Bukowski occupied; desolate drinkers and pawn fuelled paupers were his characters of choice. I got them to sign a poster for a good friend who had a birthday coming up. In conversation, they were true gents. 

Since then life has moved on. It had to. I bought a house and tidied up my act a little (some would contest this). I’ve continued to follow Richmond Fontaine although I don’t think I’ve played subsequent albums as much as I did with ‘Post To Wire’ that summer. I’ve read Willy Vlautin’s novels and envied the tautness of his prose.

I’m happy to see that they’ve got a new album coming out in March 2016.  Décor Records are releasing ‘YOU CAN’T GO BACK IF THERE’S NOTHING TO GO BACK TO’ , their first in five years. 

Willy Vlautin says this about the album “This record was written for all the guys we know who have hit the wall, are about to hit the wall, or are in the middle of slamming into it, It’s a record about paying the price for the way one’s lived.  All of us in Richmond Fontaine are at the age where the bill starts coming due for the decisions we’ve made along the way.”

It might be a record made for me. They’ve pre-released a tune from it and I’m delighted to share it here on Sonic Breakfast.