Greystones, Sheffield, 25/4/2016
published: 16 /
Keith How enjoys Richmond Fontaine's literary Americana at a gig in Sheffield on their farewell tour
J.R. was waiting pulling on a Bud. He was wearing the appearance of some hobo down on his luck. He looked up and winked. Turning away he took aim and threw the can at the motel sign and missed by a mile.
We hit the highway. In the rear view mirror the sun was setting on the Western skyline. J.R. fumbled with a roll up before rummaging for a tape. He chose 'Tesla' to annoy me. I thought it best not to argue.
The Greystones joint looked deserted as we pulled in. Outside two guys were smoking and seemingly making some deal. We grabbed a beer and headed for the back room. Inside it was dark. A few loners at tables their faces hidden. A small stage held a drum kit and a couple of amps.”Damn”,I growled to J.R.” There’s gonna be some crap band on”.
A couple of beers later the band appeared through the gloom. A guy arrived at the microphone, a guitar in hand,”Holy Shit” he commented to no-one in particular “some people here, lets play a song”.
That was my fantasy. In reality,of course, I picked J.R. up from his home and we travelled the A625 to Sheffield and parked close to the rather impressive venue.
The Greystones is a busy local pub on the outskirts of Steel City serving good beers and hosting great bands. Inside the atmosphere is humming with anticipation, plenty of banter and smiles. The “BACKROOM” is where it all happens and is packed to the rafters.
Richmond Fontaine are in town and when they slip on stage Willy Vlautin utters those timeless words “Holy Shit, there are people” he turns to the band “ Lets play a song.” They do and play for around ninety minutes not counting encores.
From the moment the band slide effortlessly into 'Wake Up Ray' we are no longer in the Greystones but transported to a down town bar in Portland. Vlautin’s onstage banter is like chatting with an old friend. His between song tales are funny and engaging sometimes exchanging jokes with the band for us to share in.
Familiar songs trade places with cuts from the newest (and final) album 'You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To'. The grungy '43' references Vlautin’s early influences while poignant moments found on 'Don’t Skip Out On Me' reveal a tender sense of despair greeted with a reverential hush. Old favourites such as 'Always On the Ride' are met with yelps of recognition from an audience who clearly know their stuff.
Richmond Fontaine’s life has been based on the consistency of Willy Vlautin’s song writing and storytelling along with the empathy and quality of his fellow musical travellers and tonight they are on top form.
As an author of four books Vlautin chronicles, in literature and poetry, the America that we never really hear about. Songs and stories about drifters and horse traders, bus rides and lost nights, hard work, beer and women. Real life that somehow we can all relate to.
'A Night in the City' tenderly recounts a night of rebellion while 'Saviour of Time' from the under rated 'Lost Son' album is punky and raw and heads are nodding. The band are road hardened, unassuming and confident. Dan Eccles’ handling of the Telecaster is sublime and never overbearing while the bass and drums are rock solid. Willy Vlautin’s voice is all the better for sounding a little raw from touring. A really top class performance.
A word for the likeable band sidekick Fernando who got the ball rolling. A genuine singer songwriter of real quality who bravely finished an excellent set (accompanied by Dan Eccles)with a scary song about facing the 'Angel of Death. Top guy!
This is the end of the road for Richmond Fontaine. This was a fitting way to say farewell, thank you for the trip and Godspeed. The world will be less with you gone. But fear not. A new incarnation the Delines have picked up the baton and are already 'On the Ride'.
Back home I look up at the stars in the clear Peak District sky and wonder if they look the same over Portland, Oregon.
Have a Listen:-