Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Stag & Jon Auer at The Islington October 03rd 2017: The Return of Steve Mack from That Petrol Emotion

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
That Petrol Emotion just weren't made for the times, they were ahead of them and I was pretty devastated when they called it a day following the release of arguably their best album "Fireproof". Intelligent, fiercely political and musically innovative their songs were however always packed full of melody and they were a real inspiration. Despite one well received but ultimately short-lived reunion there didn't seem much hope that it would lead to any new material when front-man Steve Mack returned permanently to his native Seattle. Luckily for us fans, the rest of that final Petrols line-up, Ciaran McLaughlin, Raymond Gorman, Damian O'Neill and Brendan Kelly, reconvened with the stunning album "Anima Rising" under the name of The Everlasting Yeah. The guys decided against trying to replace Steve, instead Raymond and Ciaran took over the main vocal duties with all four contributing harmonies and they forged ahead with a set of completely new material.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
It was clear this was a new band, not a nostalgia trip and the strength of the new songs proved that they didn't really need to return to past glories. I often wondered what happened to Steve Mack until I discovered he was still active musically and in a new band called Stag and the good news was that they were coming to London to play thanks to Mute Elephant, the promotion agency responsible for the Indie Daze festival. It was great to catch up with Raymond, Ciaran, Brendan and Damian who were all there to show their support and meet up with Steve again. Also, in attendance was the ever genial Buddy Ascott once of The Chords and now in The Fallen Leaves, a big fan of That Petrol Emotion and of course mates with Damian and The Undertones from back in the day.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag took the stage and burst straight into the superb double hit of "Pharaoh" and "Come On" from their latest album "Midtown Sizzler" and it was immediately obvious that Steve Mack has somehow defied the ageing process. He's as full of energy now as he was during his heyday with That Petrol Emotion and it was great to see his familiar dancing again, one big blur of flailing arms and legs. Guitarist John Randolph was not to be outdone, leaping and throwing shapes next to Steve, adding to their full-on visual assault. Ben London adds some neat lead guitar work but his Marshall amp is almost as big as the room and right down at the front of the stage it's like standing behind a fighter jet at take-off, I still can't hear properly! The excellent rhythm section comprising drummer Rob Dent and bassist Pete Everett keep everything grounded nicely, allowing Steve and the guitarists to do their stuff with wild abandon. Stag are a good-time, no nonsense Rock 'n' Roll band with their twin-guitars and soaring harmonies that takes in such influences as the Rolling Stones, Big Star and Cheap Trick. Sure, they could be called Power Pop but there's also a tinge of pounding Glam Rock on songs such as the excellent "Bedazzler". However, my favourite song of the set was the slightly more raw and punky "She + Me" which was damn powerful and reminded me of The Replacements.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
The pace doesn't let up with songs such as the classic "These Times" and there's a nicely sleazy swagger to "Elegant Man" that recalls Paul Westerberg's solo work at his best. Teenage Fanclub get a name-check and on "Another Summer" you can sense their influence creeping in on the sunny harmonies. There's a bit of gentle ribbing about Steve's early 90's dreadlock hairstyle phase and he tells us that the locks are for sale at the merchandise stall. Yes, Stag are a band that make you smile, it's not just their uplifting music but they have a really great on-stage chemistry too and they look as though they are having as much fun as we are in the audience. So with both Stag and The Everlasting Yeah out there producing such exciting new music I think I can finally stop pining for a That Petrol Emotion reunion and just enjoy the here and now.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Four-Fifths of That Petrol Emotion at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
It was also a big bonus that the support act was Jon Auer, singer, songwriter and guitarist with one of my favourite bands The Posies. Jon has also played in Big Star and has released solo albums and projects such as Dynamo Royale. It was just Jon and his guitar tonight and he treated us to a choice selection of songs from his musical career interspersed with some humorous anecdotes and good natured chat. There were also a couple of poignant moments too where he paid tribute to his old band mate Joe Skyward, Tom Petty and Grant Hart. In fact Jon played a moving rendition of "Green Eyes" from Hüsker Dü's "Flip Your Wig" album, always one of Hart's most beautiful compositions. Big Star's "Thirteen" was likened to the "Hallelujah" of Indie Rock which led to a shaggy dog story on the cultural misappropriation of the Leonard Cohen classic now ruined by Pop Idol and X-Factor contestants the world over. However, my highlight was The Posies "Dream All Day" which Jon told us was a big hit in France on its release, a fact that once saved them from a grilling by the French police apparently. It was a thoroughly enjoyable set and I was also chuffed to get my copies of "Frosting on The Beater" and "Amazing Disgrace" signed after the show!

Jon Auer at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
For more information on Stag check their web-site here, Jon Auer can be found here and Mute Elephant Promotions are here. You can see more photos of the gig at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and there are some videos from both acts at the Retro Man YouTube channel over here. Don't forget our special That Petrol Emotion/The Everlasting Yeah Retrosonic Podcast episode with Raymond, Damian & Ciaran which is available to listen to or download for free below...