50 shows in 60 days via public transport is an impressive feat, so at show number 48 it’s a wonder that Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart don’t seem more jaded. Back after 4 long years with new album Dedication, there’s a strong push towards the new material with it’s more sober tones, and despite their attempts to interact with their trademark comedic interludes at the start, it seems a London crowd is hard to crack.
There’s a sense this is in part linked to the newer songs, opener If You Change Your Mind moves quickly into Little Rock both setting the tone. Though the duo take their leads as per the album, there’s a more collaborative vibe in their live performance and as Stacey playfully bumps Mark with her guitar, the fear which the album created of a more separate sound for the duo is quickly diminished. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the show is more subdued than previously, with more focus on the music and the melancholy it brings.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom and as they break to do ‘something just kind of goofy’ I’m reminded of their happier side. Are You Ready? and Workin’ On It seem to have the effect of lightening the atmosphere of both crowd and performers alike and, with harmonica driven Lorraine and Simple Gearle also thrown in to the mix, the older fans in the room seem to lighten with satisfaction towards the end of the night.
With Here Comes The Pain leading into Here Comes The Rain, just as it does on the album, though tonight lacks the piano, it reconfirms their ability to continually create powerful songs. Furthermore with Dedication closing the show, complete with beautiful harmonies, it’s clear live performances are the thing which breathes life into their songs, truly highlighting their continued careful crafting of a wealth of intricate melodies, combining their own unique styles to merge as one.
Nevertheless, for me it’s not until closing number Up In Annie’s Room that their sparkle really seems to return. With a hyped up ending, which sees the pair really give it their all, they appear to reach their prime just as they’re given the nod to end. However, in a short, yet ultimately sweet set, Stacey and Mark prove that their hiatus has done no harm, and though the poignant The Flag is notably missing from the evening, I’m still left hoping it won’t be another 4 years before their return.