Starsailor live review by Rob Johnson

While the prospect of Starsailor’s second album Silence is Easy being 20 years old is absolutely terrifying in terms of the inexorable march of time it is also a landmark worth celebrating. The band’s sophomore effort provided a gateway for a generation of music fans into the warm bosom of James Walsh (vocals/guitar), James Stelfox (bass), Ben Byrne (drums) and Barry Westhead (keyboard) and, if anything, the timeless songs have only become more poignant divorced from their original context.

The Warrington heroes take to the stage tonight against the backdrop of a remix of ‘Four to the Floor’ – one of the band’s biggest hits – more on that later. As an anniversary tour, the set is split into two distinct sections. First, the Sheffield crowd are treated to Silence is Easy in its entirety before a short interval leads into a heady mix of greatest hits and new material.

‘Music Was Saved’ kicks things off and it’s immediately clear that Walsh’s formidable voice is still going strong. Both the singer and the band sound excellent and the sizeable crowd respond in kind. Whimsical ballad ‘Some of Us’ will always hold a place in my heart as a song that has featured in many a drunken singalong and Walsh performs it with the reverence the track deserves here. ‘Silence is Easy’ was a top ten hit back in 2003 (!) and it’s easy to see why. Two chords. Catchy verse. Massive chorus. The band almost make it look easy. The song provides the first big moment of the evening. There are more to come.

Starsailor are always at their best when exploring their darker side. Something that is borne out with a stunning run through of the menacing, carnival ride swing of ‘Shark Food’ before an acoustic rendition of ‘White Dove’ switches things up. Walsh takes time out of the set to comment on his worry that he is ‘cheating on the Leadmill’ by playing Sheffield’s lesser known venue The Foundry before assuring any ‘long-suffering’ audience members dragged along by their partners that the next song will be one they know. And yes, ‘Four to the Floor’ does get one of the biggest reactions of the night, and yes, it does sound incredible. Walsh closes out the first part of the set with a solo performance of ‘Restless Heart’ and that’s the end of the Silence is Easy section of the evening. What an album.

The band return to the stage with rousing new song ‘Tell Me It’s Not Over’ before the one-two punch of ‘Alcoholic’ and ‘Poor Misguided Fool’ provide perhaps the highlight of the whole night. Embrace guitarist and long-time Starsailor collaborator Richard McNamara joins the band for the title track from their forthcoming sixth album Where the Wild Things Grow, then an almost spiritual crowd led singalong to ‘Lullaby’ followed by personal favourite ‘Tie Up My Hands’ – the latter transformed into a sinister, bluesy jam complete with additional guitar and Walsh’s inimitable tortured vocal.

A final encore sees a third new track in the shape of ‘Heavyweight’ before traditional set closer ‘Good Souls’ takes the band back to the start of their career and the crowd into raptures. There aren’t many bands who can still pack them in over twenty years in. Starsailor are one such band. A special evening.

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