Mike & the Mechanics played another gig of their relentless UK tour to a near capacity crowd in the recently refurbished Congress Theatre.
The creative arts corner of Eastbourne has a more contemporary feel to it these days with the Towner Gallery and Congress joined and it was good to see plenty of footfall making their way in, albeit a little confused which entrance to use.
You certainly feel like you’re in a theatre yet the lights and stage set were impressive; an arrangement of rising hot air balloons with backlit graphic images, both tasteful and commensurate with the new album cover (Out Of The Blue) released the same day.
As the band take their place, messieurs Roachford and Newar take pole positions at the front whilst Rutherford, dressed in a sharp blue tonic suit, nestles a row behind next to his amplifier stack.
As we kick off with the first track Best Is Yet To Come, the sound desk is still twiddling knobs, but straightaway you notice the contrast in the two vocalists. Newar looks every bit the part of his alter-ego as a West End Theatre performer, walking to the side stalls as he projects his voice in operatic style at times. Then there’s Roachford with his soulful, softer voice but it works, and it works very well.
After the first number, Rutherford injects some humour inadvertently with his first words - So Bournemouth, how’s it going? I wonder if it’s a well rehearsed joke, but it’s a genuine faux pas and he laughs as they point out - We’re in Eastbourne!
He takes it in his stride and goes onto to set the scene for the gig as we hear a couple of older Mechanics’ tracks and then one from the Genesis songbook Land Of Confusion. Newar blasts this one out leaning in for a shared vocal here or there with his peers and if he was guilty of trying to engage the crowd too early with pointing his microphone out, by now it seems natural and they’re ready to oblige with his request. You can sense the gig starting to flow and then a well engineered surprise for us. This time it’s Roachford’s turn to take the lead role to perform one of his own songs, the timeless Cuddly Toy and you realise that not only is he blessed with fine voice and musicianship, but guess what, he can also move a bit too!
Anto Drennan hands bass to Rutherford and assumes guitar for this one and delivers the grungy fill-ins and lead break with aplomb. The crowd is loving this as Roachford opens up and then orchestrates the band each time he lets out a ‘you know you gotta feel’ as it heads to a climax and rapturous applause.
The second set kicks off with an acoustic arrangement at the front of the stage, it’s more intimate and Follow You Follow Me gets the crowd involved from the off and then What Would You Do sung by Roachford. Mike Rutherford has recruited his musicians astutely in this line-up and it allows him to lead from the back while still getting involved in some showmanship when he so feels the need, like doing the trademark stomp to I Can’t Dance across the stage with Newar.
As I look round, there’s certainly two generations of loyal fans here as we move to the last few songs. There’s a clever deviation of music and words which disguises the talismanic Living Years intro and then a big cheer once they realise and prepare to fully immerse themselves in the chorus. Just time to finish off with the apt Looking Back Over My Shoulder to send a content crowd on their way. As Rutherford said recently ‘I’m not afraid of hard work if it feels right’ and the audience tonight definitely agree that it does. By Stuart Large.