GospelbeacH / Miranda Lee Richards @ Castle Hotel, Manchester, 27.08.17

A double hit of Californian psych/cosmic country acts dazzle a capacity crowd at a sweltering gig in the Northern Quarter

Aug 29th, 2017 at Castle Hotel, Manchester / By Richard Lewis
GospelbeacH / Miranda Lee Richards @ Castle Hotel, Manchester, 27.08.17 Playing a venue whose origins aptly enough date back to the same birth year as the United States (1776), two of the Golden States’ finest visit the venerable Castle Hotel, Manchester as part of the California Fantasy Tour. A double bill that would have looked entirely at home on classic posters for The Fillmore West in the late sixties, in keeping with the Californian theme, the temperature in the gig space back room of the ornate watering hole is roughly the same as Death Valley, as a sweltered capacity crowd assembles.

San Francisco native Miranda Lee Richards takes to the stage to a packed room and glides effortlessly into Ashes and Seeds, the opening song from this year's superb Existential Beast (review). Dedicated to ‘the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love’ Golden Gate is a gorgeous swirl of psychedelic textures that pays homage to the singer’s hometown and the wellspring of the hippie movement.

Moonlighting as Richards’ backing band for the trek, GospelbeacH demonstrate just how strong their playing is, with ‘Beach leader Brent Rademaker underpinning the sound with a succession of McCartney-esque basslines. Lead guitarist Jason Soda is a formidable presence, switching between Daniel Lanois-style ambient slide guitar washes to Chet Atkins-esque country picking which powers a cantering version of The Wildwood along in superb style.

Remoulding the detailed arrangements of the album for the stage, a delicate reading of Lucid I Would Dream provides the highlight, updating the the spooked psychedelia of Forever Changes era Love. While most of the set is understandably drawn from the recent album, Colors So Fine from last year’s Echoes of the Dreamtime shimmers past beautifully. The title track concludes with an impressive showcase of Richards’ voice, as the band fades to her singing the wordless chorus hook acapella.

With the room swelling to sardines capacity, Rademaker moves to the centre of the stage for GospelbeacH’s headline set, somehow managing to keep his Stetson on for the majority of the tracks despite the heat. An excellent, exuberant frontman, the band tout a tougher, grittier energy live than on disc with a foot stomping rendition of country hoe-down California Steamer a raucous crowd pleaser. The Tom Petty-esque Kathleen and Already Home possess hooks that firmly embeds itself in the brain while Strange Days has hints of LA noir that The Doors and Jefferson Airplane excelled at.

While both acts are steeped in the classic sounds of their home state neither GospelbeacH or Richards are revivalists, bringing a modern twist to the sun dappled West Coast sound. Gospelbeach’s live set and recent LP Another Summer of Love (review) fizz with power pop verve, while Out Of My Mind (On Cope and Reed) from 2015 debut Pacific Surf Line pays homage to the erstwhile leaders of The Teardrop Explodes and The Velvet Underground respectively, the title a riff on Saint Julian’s own track Out Of My Mind (On Dope and Speed).

The set and proceedings overall conclude with the song that gives the tour its name California Fantasy, as Richards returns to the stage to provide backing vocals. A superlative evening, the only complaint is that both sets deserved to run longer, with return trips to this part of the world from both camps hopefully due very soon.