Islington Assembly Hall, with its vast polished wood floor, industrially sized mirror ball and rather frilly architecture, seems a bit too grand for the undying simplicity and honesty of both acts performing tonight.
Opening duo Truckstop Honeymoon enter the stage and launch straight in to some of the most effortlessly entertaining music available. Husband and wife Mike and Katie West, out of New Orleans, reel out their own fresh style of country songs, harmonising croons as they go. Mike is a furiously good guitar and banjo picker, whilst Kate spends the night plucking solid walking bass lines out of her double bass. This simple, time-tested combination works wonders, and the music they play can be outside the normal element of country, with ‘Home is not a Hotel‘ described as ‘a weird one‘ by the performers themselves. Mostly, though, the songs are typical of country – simple but well put together. It’s obvious, too, that the pair have a lot of fun, as Mike chats between songs and points out which ones are meant to be educational. The set is extremely entertaining, from the very first song to the last, and a fantastic American gem to find in the UK.
As they leave the stage to shouts of ‘more‘ – rare for support acts and almost unknown for an unfamiliar group – it becomes clear the crowd is a kind one. This is, of course, largely thanks to the love Beans on Toast preaches, and as he enters the room, the whole house cheers him on. As he opens with the heart warming ‘A Whole Lot of Loving‘, the mood is set for the evening: if Beans could, he’d make friends with everyone present. Roughly half his set is him playing songs by himself, including crowd favourite ‘MDMAmazing‘, but he is also joined in turn by Bobby Banjo – surprisingly, mostly wielding guitar – as well as Truckstop Honeymoon, who backed him for his latest album, Rolling Up The Hill. The set is partly improvised, as the audience is asked to suggest tracks more than a few times, and Beans explains the limited time the band has had for rehearsal. Unfortunately, this does show when a couple of songs break down in places, or verses are forgotten, but the foursome recover quickly and laugh it off, showing just how good friends they are.
Of course, Beans on Toast is remarkable in his audience interaction. Many songs are peppered with ad lib stories, the audience is employed as the accordion on ‘This Christmas‘, and Beans even enters the crowd to perform songs from the floor and share some of his Jack Daniels. It is also a notably vertical gig, as whilst among the people, Beans decrees that everyone should sit, and after returning to the stage coerces many attendees to sit on one another’s shoulders. It is near impossible not to laugh at his antics, or to join in with his sentiments – more than once is there a mass booing decrying ‘bullshit‘, in Beans‘ own eloquent language. This is such a friendly atmosphere, in fact, that for about half an hour each song is the last song, which is then met with an upset groan, and finally a promise of just one more, greeted by cheers. Even when the set is done, Beans tells the crowd he is off to the bar, and they should join him. No one can deny that Beans on Toast is one of the most charming musicians available today, or that this gig was wall-to-wall fun. He tells us this is ‘the biggest Beans on Toast gig ever‘, and it’s heartening to know that his formula of honesty and community is getting through to so many people.
Beans on Toast and Truckstop Honeymoon played Islington Assembly Hall, 10th December 2015. Latest album Rolling Up the HIll, is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings. Get yours here