Tonight is a guerrilla gig that goes against the mass-marketing heavyweights of today’s music industry. In fact, the entire Love Come Save Me album launch from frontman of The Beautiful Girls, Mat McHugh, goes against the grain of what a tour is supposed to be these days. No posters painting the sides of buildings, no advertisements in street press or ticket outlets. More importantly however, and what also sticks out in stark contrast to other touring musicians, tonight is about sharing love and telling stories.
Supported by a tired Hayden Calnin (his fourth night in a row performing after three sold-out Forum gigs with Matt Corby), the rest of us are lulled into a deep stupor with his unaffected, chilly tunes. Think lots of layers of voice and guitar, minimalistic compositions of ambient beats and endearing, doe-eyed comments from a sleepy young fellow and you have a very calming, pleasantly melancholic start to the evening. He plays his instruments deftly and, with his EP release coming around the corner, he’s surely made a few new fans tonight.
After 10 years of The Beautiful Girls, McHugh is more than ready to present the music he writes and records under his own name and tonight is just a taste of where his musical career is heading. Opening with an acoustic translation of the usually dub-laden “My Mind is an Echo Chamber”, the air is still under McHugh and his simple, meaningful magic.
He’s wary about talking too much (“Generally, when I play songs with a band, I don’t tell stories… But do you like stories before songs?”), and it’s hard to assure him how much we want to hear what he has to say. The stories he tells the audience are legitimately lapped up, particularly when McHugh tells us about his father, who died when he was a young boy. “On a Clear Day” follows sombrely and there’s no place for cheering this classic; in its place instead are a whole lot of tears.
“Go Don’t Stop” picks us up and dries our eyes with the flawlessly layered textures of drums, bass, guitar, keys, voice – everything. In terms of a solo tour, yes it’s one man, but McHugh’s use of his trusty looping station to achieve what would normally need three or more people on stage to play really makes the evening something else entirely.
Another story in dedication to friend and fellow surfer Andy Irons introduces the title track of the album, “Love Come Save Me” while other new songs – “Pocket Full of Shells” and “Strange Days” – go down an absolute treat for the crowd. Though the album has only been available for free download for a couple of months, Mat can always rely on his ardent fans for backing vocals.
We even hear “Under the Landslide” from his first solo album, Seperatista! and his always-terrific medley of covered classics: from Pearl Jam to Bob Dylan, Bob Marley to U2, he blends them superbly and adds yet another special moment to this evening.
“Let’s Take the Long Way Home”, “Music” and “Periscopes” prove the longevity of Mat and his music, the oldies which always garner an appreciative and excited response. With a back catalogue of songs such as McHugh’s, you never know what songs you may or may not hear when going along to one of his shows.
“You gotta be real quiet for this next one, otherwise you hear yourself forever,” McHugh advises with a smile before he starts the loop of the ever-massive “Blackbird”. The meaning of this favourite track changes every time you hear it live. Tonight, it’s an intense, brooding shadow that builds to an incredible, breathtaking climax.
The show closes on the ever beautiful “La Mar”, which should keep the guy drunkenly calling out for it happy, before McHugh bashfully returns for an encore of “Freedom”, “Cash Money” (“a song that goes out to Julian Assange”), and finally “Dela”.
If you were foolish to miss this show, a final The Beautiful Girls 10 year anniversary tour has been announced so no doubt he will be playing at a venue near you soon and as Mat McHugh says, “Musically, nothing’s gonna change, so don’t be sad – be happy. It’s the next chapter, so let’s go!”
- Anne-Louise Hill