In Review – Steve Lane & The Autocrats – The Front, Saturday 28th September 2013

I had a most wonderful experience on Saturday night. I was in the mood for quiet and low key. I wanted some live music but nothing rowdy. I know I’m coming across all fussy and selective like and well, yes I am both those things but sometimes you know you’re looking for something but you don’t exactly what … it’s just a vibe. I checked a gig guide, saw there was a band playing tonight down at my local, The Front in Lyneham. The Front’s website said Tonight:Steve Lane & The Autocrats and there was a little bio – I’d never heard of them, it sounded perfect.

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Guide said the show started at eight and so I headed down to meet a friend before then. Gosh, there’s no one here. OK, that’s not entirely true, there’s two bar staff including the one with a smile like a ray of sunshine and two tables of three just chatting quietly. The instruments set up against the wall indicate there is actually a band on but there’s hardly a soul around. I grab a glass of house red (and return the two glasses I stole the night before … all nicely washed of course 🙂 ) and take a seat on one of the leather couches. My friend arrives and adds significantly to the audience size. We’re chatting away when Jimmy Williams gets up with an acoustic guitar and begins. He’s been doing this a while this guitar performing thing and not because he looks like he has, nor the ease with he performs his clever and observant songs … I reckon it’s the fact that he appears totally comfortable performing to an intimate audience of six.

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There’s a cosy lounge room feel to the Front and this gig has that feel to the max. Like all the best lounge rooms, there’s an outside space too and we relocate to a couch out there just before the end of Jimmy’s set.

It’s a September evening in Canberra and although it’s been 20 degrees today it’s chilly tonight but warm on the couch. We’re out there looking in when Steve Lane & The Autocrats take the stage. A four-piece, drums, bass and two guitars. Steve is joined on vocals by Jimmy and I immediately like the feel. It’s part Church and part Lightning Seeds and all their own … it’s music made for driving and I imagine rolling fields of wheat and canola sliding past the window interspersed with the strobe of golden sunlight through trees. I can’t make out the lyrics from my outside couch spot but I like the way they’re sung with a broad rounded inflection.

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The band clearly get on with each other as they produce rolling tunes without stepping on each other’s toes. Steve Lane, in dark shirt, glasses and thick black beard greying stylishly sings about life with a wry and poetic eye. He has a rack of guitars and there’s a beautiful semi-acoustic sunburst orange Rickenbacker amongst them. It sounds rich and mellow with just the right spread of spangle. Steve is joined by brother Tim Lane on drums and I dig the gold strip over the deep red of the shells. In a simple black shirt, he plays with craft, attention and an intensity totally appropriate to the space. On electric bass, and looking like the perfect subject for a Roman bust is a young man in a royal blue buttoned up cardigan … In fact he wouldn’t look out place in the band The Cardigans or Fun Boy Three. I mention that he’s young because he must significantly lower the average age of the rest of the band and I mean that in the nicest possible way … with age comes experience and it’s precisely that which is making this band and tonight’s initiate gig so special. We find out later that his name is Kai Lane-U’Ren and he’s Steve’s son. Jimmy Williams on electric guitar makes up the on-stage foursome … Jimmy’s a great guitarist and in a blues-inspired number later in the night he totally shreds the solo. There’s a fifth, non-stage member on door bucket who is lucky he’s accompanied by someone 18 years and over! From the way he and Kai stand the same way when together I’m guessing he’s related too.

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The songs are evocative and well crafted. There’s a poetry to the lyrics that I find captivating and the stories weaved by Steve wander from the plains to the sea to the office water cooler. There’s heartfelt and sunshine and there’s deep introspection wrapped in joyous guitars pop. There’s fun banter between tracks (I mean who can ever remember the names of songs?) and interaction with the audience, which at this end of the room is just my friend and I. I’m suddenly torn between the intimacies of tonight’s performance and thinking that Steve Lane & his Autocrats deserved a much bigger crowd. It’s a testament to the experience and professionalism of the band that the small audience doesn’t seem to faze them. The last four songs see the band really gel it together, not that they were loose before, and really deliver. The power pop chorus of Forgetting Is So Long is fantastically catchy and lingers beautifully. I resolve to buy their album Birds Taking Flight which tonight’s gig is touring and when I’m listening to it the following the morning I’m taken right back to the gig … it’s fresh and alive and rich and a great listen.

The gig ends and we’re sitting outside watching the band pack up … I have to admit it’s the one part of gigging that I don’t miss (well, not as much as I miss some of the other parts) … And then we finish the night sitting on the outside couches with the band (and for a little time the bar staff too) talking about music and life and the shapes of clouds. I’d go and see this band again without question … especially now that I’ve heard of them 😉

I was also trialling a new camera, the Fujifilm x100s, which I plan to make my gig review camera as it’s small, has fantastic lowlight performance and means that I’m not lugging my DSLR in crowded pubs and essentially spending my time worrying about someone stepping on it. This was the first time I had used the camera at a live gig and I have to say I’m very impressed with the results.

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