Something magical and profound happened at the Soda Bar last Thursday night. Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson, and Rob Allen, also known as Augustines, brought the house to its knees and reduced audience members to sniffling and wiping away tears of joy and heartache throughout the band’s set.
Billy McCarthy is a engaging performer: he interacted with the crowd as if we were all old friends and seemed genuinely excited to be there with us. Not all of the band’s songs are sad, per se. While some songs do indeed describe heartache and turmoil, many of the band’s songs are celebratory. When the band took the stage, he improvised a little ditty, “San Diego/You have the prettiest girls and fish tacos/And I don’t know what else because nothing rhymes with tacos.” But because of this potent mix of emotions, watching Augustines take hold of the Soda Bar’s small stage was like being part of a religious experience.
McCarthy has a unique gift: his voice is equal parts tender and thundering, and he showcased that talent beautifully on “Walkabout,” a song off of the band’s eponymous second album. McCarthy introduced the song by saying, ” I bought a motorcycle this year. I’m too big for it. It is a moped. I feel so macho. I went from Alaska to Mexico and back up and back down.”
The band played several other songs off of their newest record, Nothing to Lose But Your Head, which McCarthy introduced by saying, “I believe in thoughts that nag you and won’t leave your head.” “Hold Onto Anything” and “Now You Are Free” had the audience roaring the words back to the band. The band also played favorites off off their first album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships: “Chapel Song,” “Juarez,” and the incredibly powerful “Book of James,” which McCarthy wrote for his brother.
Augustines’ performance was nothing short of raw and impassioned. The band’s energy is genuine and a joy to witness. Often times, you see a great performer give a great performance and sense that it is a well-rehearsed act, just a part of their stage personality. Not so with the Augustines. Few artists bring that level of conviction to their performances.
During the show, I met a woman from Brazil who was visiting San Diego for a month. She told me this was her first night out on the town. Just before the band’s encore, she turned to me and asked, “Do you get these kind of bands here in San Diego?”
Unfortunately, I had to tell her that even though we get a lot of great shows, performances like Augustines at the Soda Bar remain a rarity.
Seattle duo My Goodness opened.
Augustines at the Soda Bar
My Goodness at the Soda Bar