TVD Live Shots: Starsailor at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 9/8

This is the tenth time I’ve seen Starsailor. I’ve seen them live more than any other band, with Cheap Trick and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult a close second. (Yeah, how’s that for a mix?)

I am very aware that I throw around the phrase best show I’ve seen, best band etc., quite a bit, but I see ALOT of live music, and the majority of it is pretty epic. But Starsailor is on another level. I don’t think they’ve ever written a bad song. They’re one of the few bands left that consistently deliver brilliant albums from start to finish. They also continue to evolve their sound but never go off the deep end.

This time around, it is to celebrate their debut album which came out 20 years ago. Love is Here was the album that kickstarted the post-Brit-Pop movement in the early 2000s. It seemed to be a competition between Coldplay, Travis, Feeder, Keane, and more. It’s a masterpiece in terms of a marriage between glorified acoustics and a one-of-a-kind voice. The hits just kept coming in the form of “Lullaby,” “Alcoholic,” “Fever,” “Poor Misguided Fool,” and of course, the career-defining “Good Souls.” To hear this album from start to finish isn’t a fucking gimmick; it’s a privilege.

Even though the gig was rescheduled three times due to the pandemic, it was worth the wait. Yet again, the timing wasn’t perfect. With the announcement earlier that day that Queen Elizabeth II had passed, it was impossible not to acknowledge it. “I’m not a big fan of the monarch, but she played by the rules just like us, and that I have to respect,” said Walsh just after the first few songs.

Love is Here was played in its entirety, straight through with Walsh remarking just before playing “Alcoholic,” “we don’t usually play this one so early in the set, but that’s how it goes.” That would turn out to be just fine as the band has the depth of songs throughout their catalogue to keep the hits going until the end. Starsailor was a man down as original bass player James Stelfox wasn’t able to make the show. Stepping in on bass duties was Travis guitarist Andy Dunlop who did a masterful job trading in six strings for four.

After Love is Here, we were treated to a short greatest hits set, including “Four to the Floor,” “Silence is Easy,” “Tell Me it’s Not Over,” and “In the Crossfire.” Another highlight of the evening came with the announcement of a new song. Yeah, a new fucking Starsailor song! I had no idea they were working on new material, and I can’t seem to find a mention of it anywhere, and it was the one moment of the night where there were not a couple of hundred phones recording the show. It was a mid-tempo song that sounded like it could have been placed in between “Silence is Easy” and “On the Outside.” It was a short one, but fantastic nonetheless. Hopefully, this is just the set-up for a new album. A Christmas gift?

One thing that really stood out to me was that Walsh’s voice is still one of the best in the business, but there were a few moments on a couple of the lesser played numbers where I saw him push his vocals like never before. It’s rare to see it, but a slight rock ‘n’ roll rasp came out for a few moments. His voice is clearly in fine form, but it was likely a mix of emotion—overdelivering as he does—and pure grit from doing this for so long. It was the first time I heard him become a bit vulnerable, making the set even more special.

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