"Tonight is all about something that doesn't happen enough these days – Musicians helping each other" announced Tom McRae last night as the Hotel Café tour rolled into London after a year long tour of the USA. The feeling was great: a series of artists who are all too small on their own to undertake a full UK tour, but altogether they have the ability to sell out a venue in days.
Taking a revue style to the evening, Tom opened proceedings at 8:30, and we then witnessed an amazing 2 hours and 40 minutes of non stop music. No lengthy change overs with houselights up, we're talking one person walks off as the next comes on, with different people joining in on different tracks when they felt the urge to, before "we start to bump each to each other, drop guitars, and generally run headlong into chaos until someone makes us leave the stage".
First song, Hawaii and the sound goes halfway through. No problem: he just keeps on strumming and talks to the crowd, explaining the tour and how the evening is going to work. One more song and he's off, to be replaced by Steve Reynolds, who has a voice that sounds like he's lived in a musty back-street pub for most of his life. Two songs from Steve, and he's quickly replaced by Joe Purdy, who has, quite frankly, legendary facial hair (which leads to a comment from Tom that he "shaves once a month and if Joe doesn't for an hour he ends up like this…."). Joe Purdy managed to be a skilled guitarist and harmonica player, a genius if ever there was one. Next up was Cary Brothers, who was one of the main reasons we had come out tonight: his two songs Ride and Blue Eyes are some of the best around.
Then we had a very nice surprise: Aqualung. In the spirit of the real Hotel Café in LA, bands are quite welcome to turn up and play a few songs, or just sit around and get trashed with the other artists. Aqualung came and played a new song and then Brighter than Sunshine – just fab, and they stuck around to play keys on Blue Eyes later in the evening.
After this point things got a bit blurry: the artists came back on, joined each other, did different songs, until about 10:50 when Tom came back, did Silent Boulevard, Boy with the Bubblegum and My Vampire Heart. By this point everyone was in very high spirits, and things were getting a bit more ragged, but still very coherent, and had everyone in the crowd in exceptionally high spirits not seen since the Pipettes swept through the capital.
All in all an excellent evening of entertainment, well worth the money: not many bands this year put on 2 hours 40 minutes of non stop music: they're playing at Kings College Student Union next week, so go and see Tom and the artistes of the Hotel Café: it's well worth the money, and you will have one of the best evenings of the year.
Words by Phil Singer. Photo of Jim Bianco playing live at the gig taken from Kirsten Mavric'sflickr stream.