TVD Live: Starsailor and Embrace at Slims, 6/4

Watching Starsailor perform one can only wonder how on earth any one band can make such glorious music. Every single song is absolute perfection and frontman James Walsh has one of the most remarkable voices on the planet. When I saw that they would be coming to San Francisco on their current tour I was beyond excited. When I heard they were playing a new song in their current set, I got the sense that there has to be a new album in the works, right?

The first time I saw Starsailor was at SXSW back in 2002. It was a time when SXSW was all about showcasing new bands instead of building a four-story Doritos branded stage in the middle of downtown Austin for Snoop Dog to headline. Starsailor was THE buzz band that year and they took to the stage at one of the biggest venues in Austin at the time, the Austin Music Hall.


The place was jam-packed and a remix of “Poor Misguided Fool” played over the monitors teasing the crowd a bit as they took to the stage and tore into the original version. It was epic.

From the first note of the set the entire room knew instantly that a new contender had emerged to potentially rule the post Britpop invasion. Then seemingly out of nowhere singer James Walsh called out the record execs in attendance in between songs by saying something about how they played for the fans and not the record executives who were all sitting at the back bar boozing it up and not paying attention. Interesting because it was their debut US performance, but even more because they seemed to piss off every record exec in the music biz with one fell swoop.

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It didn’t really phase me but I started to worry that it might come back to haunt them. Their second release, Silence is Easy in my opinion could be one of the greatest albums ever recorded. From start to finish it is an absolutely masterpiece in every sense. They began working on the record with Phil Spector, although only two tracks from those sessions would make it to the final release. But holy hell are they brilliant. Phil brought out his classic wall of sound approach with these guys and it worked beautifully. I hope someday they release the others as demos or something, but in the meantime I’ll take what I can get.

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I might have totally missed something, but I don’t remember the band touring the states on that release. If they did, they skipped Austin. I wouldn’t see them again until James Walsh did a solo acoustic gig at SXSW 2006 (or 2007, I’m a bit fuzzy). He was playing to a courtyard of folks where half were hardcore fans and the others not so much. Walsh has such a stellar voice that he really didn’t even need a band. I sat there in complete awe as he played a short set of songs that seemed to be way too brief for a journey all the way from the UK.

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Starsailor came back swinging with a record called On the Outside. It was magnificent and took their sound in a new direction. A bit heavier, a bit more raw, but still some of the most remarkable songwriting I have ever heard. Two songs in particular, “In the Crossfire” and “Keep us Together,” could be the band at their creative peak. They were truly firing on all cylinders while revealing a less polished version of what they had become known for.

Fast forward to the show last week at Slim’s in downtown San Francisco, Starsailor are back and as glorious as ever. Walsh seemed to have matured quite a bit since his SXSW performance over a decade ago as he seemed very humble on stage. There were a few smiles that cracked through his incredibly passionate delivery and it became instantly clear that the passion is still in this band.

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Once again they opened with “Poor Misguided Fool” and it sounded just as amazing as it did the first time I heard it. Walsh’s voice is perfectly intact. It must really piss off other singer songwriters that he makes it look so effortless to hit the notes that he does—on top of handling guitar duties. Next up was a spectacular version of “Alcoholic,” right into “Fidelity,” “Boy in Waiting,” and then the instant classic “Lullaby.” The setlist that night spanned the band’s short but incredibly diverse, yet terribly under celebrated catalog.

Then came a new song in the set called “Give up the Ghost.” If anyone is wondering if Walsh and company can still craft an amazing song, this was the answer and it was an astounding YES. “Ghost” was a perfect mix of Starsailor both raw and polished—a sound somewhere between the second and third album which is exactly the direction the band should be heading from a hardcore fan’s perspective. Let’s just hope they announce soon that “Ghost” is one of many new songs and there’s a full album in the works, PledgeMusic maybe? That’s where Walsh’s brilliant solo record was incubated a couple of years ago.

The set finished off with a predictable but fitting close: “Four to the Floor,” “Silence is Easy,” and “Good Souls.” I selfishly wish that they would have played a bit longer as there is no telling when they will make it back Stateside again. At the end of the day I was just thrilled to be able to stand in the front row and watch one of the most talented bands on Earth do their thing.

This was a co-headline show with another fantastic British band called Embrace. I have to admit I wasn’t too familiar with them before seeing the show. Add to that the fact that Starsailor is an all-time favorite, and what you end up with is a lopsided review. I will tell you that they put on a brilliant live show and I just purchased the super deluxe package of their latest album which is equally as brilliant. Maybe I can review them again with a better understanding next time around. In the meantime I think this article from is the yin to the yang of what I just wrote.


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