When a bandleader freezes midsong so emotionally wrought by his words that tears stream down his face and he is unable to continue, as so often happened to Billy McCarthy in the past decade, are you a piece in his recovery or a tabloid voyeur?
Happily, this time it appears to have been the former. Having laid bare every shred of despair and torment from a life so tragic most indie rockers’ seem, well, just kinda whiny with 2011-12’s Rise Ye Sunken Ships [Tincanland 2012: “I tried the bible, I tried the bottle, I tried the needle, I tried it all”], McCarthy poked a head above the parapet with Editors-style celebratory stadium anthems on 2014’s Augustines, and This doubles down on the newfound evangelism of living life full.
He still has his moments, but there is an irresistible new triumph in big numbers like This‘ title track and the featured, Are We Alive, which features a real, larger-than-life Bristol Everyman who dances along with virtually every band who comes to town – 3,500 and counting. “…bury me in like a cast-iron straight jacket with about 200,000 million tons of cement somewhere deep in the ocean…Still wouldn’t stop me. Going out to watch live music is an absolute joy. It’s the best thing about being alive.”
Never stop, Big Jeff. Welcome to the dance floor, Billy.