‘I haven’t played original stuff for a while’ was Austen George’s mumbled apology to the Acoustic Music Centre audience after encountering difficulty remembering his chords in his opening song. Looking bedraggled and with a wild mane of blonde hair, George began onstage alone, firstly at the piano and then moving to guitar, playing fairly unpolished jazz-infused folk that was pleasant but coloured by his apparent strains for the next chord or line. Four songs in, his band were then plucked unceremoniously from the front row of the audience and seemed to calm George’s nerves, lifting the malaise of the first part of the show. They settled into a jaunty skip that recalled Belle and Sebastian, but problems still abounded when it emerged via a sheepish conversation with his bass player that George had been playing in the wrong key and the band battling to keep up. This occurred a further two times.
When it was good, it was very good: his final solo song’s haunting refrain ‘I’m out of love’ brought a real tender moment. His voice was strong, warm and throaty throughout and his band provided some welcome harmonies. The songs themselves verged on formulaic but were well-performed and had moments of excellence but there were simply too few of these moments, and too few songs amidst the meandering and mumbling.
The set nearly ended catastrophically with George apparently having to leave without a proper closer or even a sentence due to time constraints. While he found three minutes of borrowed time to play a rousing ‘Summertime Blues’, during which the band clambered onstage to join in, it really was a case of what might have been.