Alex Henry Foster & The Long Shadows - Broadcast, Glasgow 23.06.2022
Where do I start with this review? What words can I conjure that will describe what I have just witnessed and experienced? No matter what I say it will be inadequate, it will fall short as, sometimes, you just need to be there.
Let me try my best.
I was first introduced to the world of Alex Henry Foster and the Long Shadows last year as I was coming out of a major spell of anxiety, depression and disassociation. His album, “Windows In The Sky” centred around the loss of Alex’s father and had been written while processing the feelings and emotions that he was experiencing. There were moments of grief, loss and anger, but also hope, tenderness and love. It was a hypnotic maelstrom of noise and passion. Every note, every word, every passage had its purpose. It was Phil Spector conducting Sonic Youth and Swans, a wall of noise that tore at you while lifting on its wings.
Covid had cut short touring options for the band until relatively recently. Finally, the Canadian sextet have been able to traverse the Atlantic so it seems only fair that I travel to Glasgow from Durham for the occasion.
Glasgow is a city I’ve only been to once but I’m lucky that my friend Gill is there to show me around and get me to the venue. Broadcast is an unusual room to play. The stone walls feel cool against your back, especially in the warmth of the British summer. The stage is deeper than it is wide, meaning that space is a premium up there for the musicians. At its rear a pair of drum kits sit facing each other as it’s the only way for both to fit on there. In front of this is what appears to be a hammered dulcimer, keyboards, synths, amps and possibly the contents of NASA’s control rooms spread across the floor in pedal form.
After a short atmospheric set from Sef Lemelin (think beats and loops creating a sinister soundtrack from some lost horror film) the various Long Shadows take to the stage. The lighting starts low as a smoke machine creates a haze; the band start playing as Alex comes through the audience. He may be slight of frame but he carries a sense of power to him, his Moog at the lip of the stage is almost like a pulpit, which seems apt. He’s handed a tenor guitar as the music starts to slowly build. Behind him is Charles “Moose” Allicie, one of the band’s drummers, tapping away at the dulcimer, while Jeff Beaulieu locks in a looping pulsing bass line. Miss Isabel adds textures of keyboard swells, occasionally punctuated by clarinet (she will also add flute, trumpet and percussion as the night continues). To Alex’s right, Sef (yep, the same Sef who opened the night) cradles his guitar, pulling strange esoteric noises from the instrument, while adding more synth sounds. After a while, Moose settles himself at his main drums, which allows Ben Lemelin to get up from his kit and make his way the stage front to add more guitar.
The audience are scattered around the room. One guy has stripped down to shorts; barefoot and bare chested he starts dancing, twisting and convulsing along to the music as he is swept up by it. He’s not with the band, he’s one of us, an audience member who’s been carried along by this act of communion. I later find out he’s called Phil and I hug him like I would a family member before I leave.
Communion is the perfect description for this. It takes that step further on from being just music. It’s hypnotic, pulling you deeper into it like the undertow of an ocean. You feel like it’s pulling the air from your lungs, the bass and drums forming a restless crash on you. The layered melodies pull you further into its embrace. There’s moments of respite with Alex’s poetic lyrics cutting through, offering you the brief opportunity of hope before you’re snatched away again.
The presentation is just as hypnotic as the music itself. There are strobes of pure white that punch through washes of red, leaving band members at times just silhouettes to us; adding more mystery and magic to the event. It’s a light show that rivals the intensity of industrial giants Nine Inch Nails. Your only hope is to try and grasp hold of anything to keep you buoyant through the performance. I close my eyes, feeling the push and pull of the music. Opening them I feel off balance for a moment or two before finding my composure.
The set is only comprised of six songs or so. It might not seem like much but the show runs just short of two hours. Songs become expanded, drawing from what’s happening around them. There’s thought gone into this - a framework for Alex to orchestrate the chaos through. He immerses himself completely in the performance in a way that brings to mind Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke.
The wall between audience and performer is shattered during “Summertime Departures” with Alex joining us on the floor. Before I realise it he places his tenor guitar around my neck and hands me a brass slide that he’s been using to create his contributions to the sound. After a few moments he leads me to the stage where I join the rest of the musicians. Ben leans towards me and encourages me even further, Alex filming the whole thing with my phone (it’s a good thing I trust him). After a few minutes he brings us to a natural conclusion to the song. There is a warm embrace between the two of us before I leave the stage to take my place again where I belong. This wasn’t planned at all, not a mention of it while I interviewed him before soundcheck earlier. I’m breathless from channeling the wild electricity of the song.
“The Hunter” follows, growing from its svelte fourteen minute studio version to a live leviathan that grows until it’s almost doubled its original length. It’s this song that acts almost as a focal point to the set, its crescendo leaving us both speechless and breathless. Alex is thankful as he talks to us all before closing with “Shadows of Our Evening Tides”, a mesmerising tour of the pain of grief while reminding us that life continues. During its closing coda he leaves the stage once again and comes amongst us all, warmly hugging each of us. The guy is soaked in his own sweat after giving us everything he had during the performance. By the time the song concludes he’s overshot the 10pm curfew by about twenty minutes but none of us care (other than probably the staff who have to set up for the club night afterwards).
We slip out into the warm Glasgow night. My heart is still racing, trying to understand what it is exactly I’ve just participated in. A few years ago I’d gone to see Nick Cave live and it was a completely spiritual performance and, to me, this was on a similar level. Alex takes the intensity of the emotional investment in the songs and distils it to its very pure essence for his live shows, Yes, there is a communion between artist and audience because, no matter who we are and what walk of life we’re from, love and grief are a shared commonality between us all. We may speak different languages or be from differing parts of the planet but some things are universal and transcend everything. A sample used during “Shadows of Our Evening Tides” is from Allen Ginsberg and it sums everything perfectly:
“The weight of the world is love.
Under the burden of solitude,
under the burden of dissatisfaction
the weight we carry
Alex Henry Foster & The Long Shadows - https://www.facebook.com/alexhenryfosterofficial
Sef Lemelin - https://www.facebook.com/SefLemelinofficial
Review - Scott Hamilton