Alex Henry Foster & The Long Shadows – The Deaf Institute, Manchester – 25th June 2022
Just about a couple of years ago, we stood at the feet of Alex Henry Foster supporting Trail Of Dead, the close encounter on the point of being one of the first kind as he threatened to topple over the monitors and into the front row of the Night & Day Cafe. Marked as one to watch, when he was announced as support on The Pineapple Thief tour(already an essential gig), the decision was a no-brainer.
Given the chance to return to the UK and Europe to headline, he surely will have drawn in fans from those support slots alongside those already committed. Proof too of our maxim of always trying to make sure we see the support band and also that of putting in the hours in foreign countries, hopefully bearing fruit for the musicians who work at their art on the live stage.
Talking of which, Last Of Eden from Halifax, whose People Like People Like Them single has just appeared on the shared Hopeful Tragedy label, played a brief warm up set, the familiarity of the single’s key phrase – “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” – ringing out at the close of the set. Good little band and worth chasing to cath them again.
Now, Alex Henry Foster may have joked in his set about receiving certificates from the venues on the hour for setting records for the amount of kit they have on stage. Not helped tonight by the “two thousand” (he exaggerates…a little) stairs up to the Deaf Institue stage I guess. He’s not wrong though. The band must be used to working in small spaces. Probably done the health & safety training and even the stage manager/tech does his job offstage, camped by the merch desk, making the occasional dashes to aid stircken equipment. The array of pedalboards and gadgets that transform the sound of the basic guitars, bass and drums and what they achieve is staggering. It’s no wonder AHF reverts to his trick of balancing with each foot placed on the grill of a motor, straddling the stage like a colossus, finding some room to move.
And move he does. Twisting and contorting himself into shapes that wrap around the guitars which are played every which way but the normal way to support the miasma of sound created by the band. One that’s often decorated with the punctuation of flute, clarinet and trumpet. The Ouverture finds them taking up over a quarter of an hour as way of introduction as they wind their way through several passages. And how often do you see a gig start with two guitar players using a violin bow at their instruments? From the start, you know, if you didn’t already, this is going to be a bit different and a little bit special.
The moods swing and thedynamics shift remarkably, suddenly and with a dramatic impact. The lighting reflects the mood with saturated colours and blinding strobes from the back of the stage. The intensity is often overwhelming as AHF becomes immersed in what are often deeply personal moments. Anguish and pain seem to take over although his between song patter is positive and upbeat. The music and the words; the feelings, come from deep within. More than once he refers to his father’s passing and how, despite the pain that never goes away, we should be look to embrace our time. “This is real…THIS IS REAL!” he bellows with a fervent passion at the end of the set as the cool ambience of Shadows Of Our Evening Tides builds into the crescendo of a grand finale. He leaves the stage first and for once we’re left to focus briefly on The Long Shadows – the five piece band he calls “an open entity” – who’ve been on the journey over the last two hours, providing a detailed and nuanced soundtrack not without its moments of power.
It’s a classic AHF set. If you can call if you can refer to his epic songs as such, he settles for a selection of ‘the hits’. Summertime Departures, The Hunter (that’s taken up the bulk of any short support sets) and The Pain That Bonds are centrepieces amongst the handful of extended and towering pieces. They cook, they brood and frequently explode around the venue, the ominous throb of The Pain That Bonds hinting at what’s we know will eventually come.
‘Not all wonders have been lost’ is quoted on the tour promo. It’s an eloquent ideal that makes a couple of hours spent in and with The Long Shadows a hypnotic and uplifting expereince.
Categories: Single Review