October 16, 2019
O2 Academy Islington, London
“You all still sing along but these songs are really sad!”
There was a bit of concern about a criminally low turnout for Art Alexakis’ debut solo show in London. Rumours about a double figure audience in Norwich the night before spread quickly among the 10 hardcore fans waiting outside the venue as doors opened. No need to worry; a steady stream of people arrived as the night wore on, and the place erupted with a :::ahem:: world of noise when Alexakis took to the stage.
As the founder of the Summerland tour – which gives lucky fans in the U.S. a reminder of the joy of ’90s modern rock/alternative music every year – he’s no stranger to the nostalgia circuit. Yet this crowd’s reaction to Songs From An American Movie proved that they were familiar with much more than the Sparkle and Fade/So Much For The Afterglow hits.
Alexakis pointed out that the album Songs From An American Movie Part I was coming up to 20 years old, then laughed at the collective intake of breath: “yes, you’re old too!” Tantalisingly, he promised that Everclear would come to the UK next year to play that album in full, delighting fans that have been used to waits of 6-14 years between tours!
All the pent up excitement came out in a mass singalong to a big-in-America ’90s single, I Will Buy You A New Life. Interestingly, Nervous and Weird – a song from Everclear’s 1993 debut, World of Noise, which was made for just $400 – was almost as vocally welcomed. Alexakis seemed aware of and appreciative of the love in the room, acknowledging that if he makes a live album, it should definitely be in London.
He took the opportunity to joke about the crowd (or lack of) in Norwich. That set the tone for a night of mutual appreciation and warmth. During another World of Noise tune, Loser Makes Good he got the university graduates to self-identify before singing “you smart-ass college fuck” with a cheeky grin.
It wasn’t all deep cuts; he threw in plenty of “stupid hits” too. Sometimes a band’s long-time fans can get sniffy about chart singles, but Father of Mine was welcomed like an old friend. Maybe it speaks to the power of the message wrapped around three trusty chords. Far too many people can relate to the experience of “Daddy gave me a name/then he walked away.” Even if not directly impacted, the raw emotion expressed in this and Everclear’s other ‘divorce song,’ Wonderful, is universal.
The performance continued with the back row choir holding the notes and the front rows singing harmonies. Alexakis soon came to realise he could rely on this lot to fill out the sound that’s he’s used to getting from bandmates; they even ‘sung’ intro samples and keyboard parts!
It became clear that the fans had his back emotionally too. Alexakis was in the UK to promote his first solo album, Sun Songs, but its development had been marred by a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. After up to thirty years of muscle memory he knew the Everclear songs like the back of his hand but the new solo songs took a little more effort, especially while also singing about the immediate aftermath of his devastating diagnosis in Hot Water Test. He was touched by the extended applause when he made it through the song – it would surely have been a standing ovation if it wasn’t a standing venue to begin with.
Other songs included a downtuned love song which Alexakis’ wife had insisted on and which he later conceded the record absolutely needed, and Line In the Sand. The latter was similar to Learning How To Smile in its close observation of the development of a relationship.
Inevitably the big hits came out as the set drew to a close. First Everything to Everyone and then the U.S. smash Santa Monica. Noise levels went through the roof for that one!
The second set was designed to take full advantage of the acoustic ambiance. Freddy Herrera – more commonly known as Everclear’s bassist but here earning MVP as a roadie and guitar tech – helped fans get the chance to make requests and thank Alexakis for decades of entertainment and inspiration. This format allowed his humour and storytelling acumen to shine, even if mainly in finding creative ways to say no to certain songs!
Fans were appeased when he explained he’d be best able to do justice to the gorgeous song Overwhelming at next year’s Everclear shows, and that they’d play The Swing (from the Scream 2 soundtrack) then too.
Against his better judgment – mainly because it had been written for his “trophy wife” ex – he gave into peer pressure and played Good Witch of The North. He explained that he doesn’t really understand why so many people choose it as a wedding song – like the requester had – especially now he understands his mother’s first impressions about the subject of the song: “she’s dumber than a bag of hammers and meaner than a bag of snakes but, baby, you’re gonna figure that out for yourself.”
He also played Summerland for a man who had a tattoo of the song’s title on his back, though perhaps as a consolation prize; as it was written in Chinese characters, the tattoo could technically say anything! He revealed that this had happened to the ‘trophy wife’; she’d pissed off a tattoo artist so the tattoo actually said ‘bad things’ instead of the requested translation.
Perhaps the most interesting song request of the night was So Much For The Afterglow. A sparkling electric track on record, it really worked here as Alexakis pushed the electro-acoustic guitar to its limits and recalled the fire of Everclear’s early alternative records.
After a handful more requests, the show was over all too soon. Long after the queue to meet and thank Alexakis has dissipated, fans hung around outside the venue to share what the songs and show meant to them. On this evidence, there’s no question that Everclear’s full band shows – slated for April 2020 – will be a huge success.
Art Alexakis’ solo album, Sun Songs, is out now on CD and vinyl.
“Old guitars don’t like new strings”
Emma Tricca was preparing for her own tour the next day when she got a call at 3:00 p.m. asking to her support Art Alexakis that evening. It may be telling that after several decades of power chord rock openers for Everclear shows, a tender singer-songwriter was chosen for Alexakis’ first solo tour.
Perhaps the eager crowd weren’t ready for that tonal shift; the volume of chatter started to rise after the first few songs. Emma had a secret weapon, though. She increased the volume of her Nick Drake style fingerpicking and Joni Mitchell-esque musings (replete with Laurel Canyon and Island Records vibes) to compete and compensate. This allowed those who were willing to listen the chance to hear delicate tracks like November At My Door from her 2014 album Relic.
She was well aware of the talking but unperturbed was due to a skill she honed while playing at The 12 Bar: “I carry on like a train but I’m able to listen to all the conversations.” Let that be a warning to rude concert-goers everywhere!