Billy McCarthy is crying with fearful happiness. His voice has been threatening to throw in the towel all night, but the passion in the man, and the band, has garnered one of the most memorable, authentic gigs seen at the Roundhouse for a long time - propelled by a connection with the crowd that money can’t buy.
The tears come from knowing this, and, having worked for years suffering more real-life tragedies than a Shakespeare play, fearing it too good to be true.
The set is played in a fittingly frantic style of triumphant trepidation. McCarthy and his Brooklyn comrade, multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson, come out of the blocks like greyhounds with ‘Headlong into the Abyss’. It is a handshake to the crowd, who chant the chorus back in mutual appreciation, and from there the die is cast. London boy, drummer Rob Allen, plays his part too, thumping ‘Chapel Song’ and ‘Augustine’ along with gusto.
From this momentum, the band manage to instil positivity into the tales of falling asleep on cigarettes and heart-breaking, soul-searching malaise. ‘City of Brotherly Love’ is perhaps the best example, with McCarthy orchestrating the crowd’s willing involvement. At points his voice becomes so hoarse they take over without hesitation. It’s a special moment and it becomes clear even if the voice goes completely, he’ll still stand there, somehow, and no-one will be leaving. Thankfully, those chords hold. And when in full flow McCarthy’s set of lungs pack such loud, raw emotive power it’s difficult not to be affected. ‘Book of James’, recounting the suicide of his schizophrenic brother, is tremendously powerful, and serves to make the life affirming ‘Now You Are Free’ even more poignant. It’s anthemic chorus: “What am I running from?”, purges self-doubt and mirrors Springteen, with substance.
The band take three encores, re-appearing to perform acoustically on the balcony and in the middle of the crowd. Without a microphone it’s no wonder the throat needs a break. "I don't care if I lose my voice in London, it's a good place to leave it", shouts McCarthy, sweat soaked and with a beaming smile on his face. The grand roar of approval says it all. Augustines have nothing to fear and much to celebrate.