LIVE: Dave Hause & The Mermaid / Sam Russo @ The Garage, London

By Thomas Gane

Sam Russo was a late stand in as main support tonight, catching the train to London on short notice earlier that day, but he was also an undeniably welcome addition to the line-up. Taking  the stage with a pint and his guitar in hand, he laughed about trying not to stamp his foot because he was recovering from a broken bone. As much of a treat as his unexpected performance was to the audience it seemed just as much of a joy for him. One of the most enjoyable things about Russo is he seems truly grateful for every performance, and this endearing quality was on full show tonight.

Freed from the routine of a regular tour or promoting a new record, he freely dipped in and out of both of his albums, 2012’s ‘Storm’ and the 2015’s follow up ‘Greyhound Dreams’, seemingly playing whatever felt right. He joked about trading stories of excess backstage as he nursed his pint and lamented his train home and early alarm, before launching into rowsing renditions of tracks that told these tales like ‘Dead End Roads’, ‘Letting Go’ and ‘Crayfish Tales’. Fan favourite ‘Dry Shampoo’ proved particularly difficult to avoid a trademark Russo foot-stomp, with the occasional lapse and subsequent lapse drawing laughs from the crowd. Tracks from ‘Greyhound Dreams’ such as ‘Runaways’ and ‘Small Town Shoes’ showed the considered and delicate side to Russo’s writing, and the performance of brand new track ‘Good & Gone’ left the hope of a third album hanging in the air. There’s a few universes in which Sam Russo is as big as Frank Turner and there’s probably a few in which he still plays open mic gigs in pubs, but there’s no doubt every version of him approaches each gig with the same relish and joy, and that’s why it’s always such an honest and enjoyable experience to see him play.

The last time Dave Hause was in London was December 2013 when he was touring his sophomore effort ‘Devour’, and one of the first things he tells the crowd is it’s been too long. Back then he was touring solo, but things have changed. In between ‘Devour’ and this year’s excellent ‘Bury Me In Philly’, Hause played some shows with his beloved old band The Loved Ones, worked on a new The Falcon album with Brendan Kelly and started the (semi-serious but fully-excellent) The All Brights, and the taste for being in a band again clearly took hold. Hause now tours with his band The Mermaid and he seems all the better for it, bounding around the stage with more energy than most teenage front-men have.

The band begin the show with ‘The Flinch’ from ‘Bury Me In Philly’ which gets a slightly understated response from the crowd, however moving swiftly into ‘Autism Vaccine Blues’ from ‘Devour’ begins to get everyone going. Hause has never toured his early songs with a band and hearing them fully imagined on stage breathes a whole new life into them. By the time he moves back to Bury Me In Philly opener ‘With You’ the crowd are completely with him and singing almost every word back.

Other highlights from the new record include the title track, which has a distinctly The Loved Ones energy about it, ‘Shaky Jesus’, which has a wonderfully building and atmospheric one word refrain of “Holy”, and ‘Dirty Fucker’, which Hause venomously dedicates to President Trump. In general though the older tracks are the ones that really invigorate the audience. This is particularly true for songs from ‘Devour, ‘which was a wonderfully composed album that has always deserved a full band tour, such as ‘Same Disease’ and ‘The Great Depression’.

Hause performed his first encore solo with an acoustic guitar, using it as an opportunity to shout out Chuck Ragan and The Revival Tour (which was the first exposure many people in the UK had to artists such as Hause and Tim Barry) and perform ‘Prague (Revive Me)’. He also included a few for the long term fans with the title track from his debut album ‘Resolutions’ and The Loved Ones classic ‘Jane’ (although Hause suggesting it may be the final time he plays it was heartbreaking for anyone unable to make a The Loved Ones reunion). The Mermaid then returned for the final few tracks, with Hause shouting out his younger brother on lead guitar before a contagiously optimistic renditions of ‘C’mon Kid’ from ‘Resolutions’ closer ‘We Could Be The Kings’.

Throughout the entire performance Hause had a joyous smile etched on to his face, clearly relishing performing as part of a band and seeing his older songs fully realised. Even ‘The Mermaid’ seem to find a particular pleasure in performing songs from ‘Devour’ (presumably they were fans before being asked to join), and this energy flowed from the stage into the crowd throughout, and everyone in the room was more than happy to throw it right back. Hause’s persistence and perseverance over the years meant the audience were always going to be behind him, but seeing some so deserving triumph in such a resounding way was more than a little bit special.