Colchester Arts Centre April 29, 2023
by Adam Aiken
It’s the first night of the new tour for When Rivers Meet – the East Anglian outfit who are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down with their recorded output, their social media blitzing or the awards they keep picking up.
With Aaron and Grace Bond having moved from the north of the region to put down their roots near here, it’s a hometown(ish) show to boot, and tickets for this show sold out a long time ago.
Ahead of the tour, they’d promised to shake things up setlist-wise, introducing not just a few numbers from their forthcoming Aces Are High album but also songs from earlier in their career that hadn’t seen the light of day. And they are true to their word.
Demonstrating their growing confidence, they launch straight into Play My Game, the first single from Aces Are High, rather than a more familiar opener.
It’s a classic WRM tune, with Grace’s catchy “Kiss me” chorus underpinned by satisfying harmonies and Aaron’s backing vocals. There’s a crunching guitar riff from the Downham Market frontman, too.
And it’s a good indication of what’s to follow, with the set having a much heavier feel than previous tours.
Past WRM shows have tended to ebb and flow between the rockier numbers and the gentler moments, but tonight there’s a definite emphasis on the heavier stuff.
We get about half a dozen songs from their repertoire that weren’t regulars in the past, and they help to form a well structured setlist that perhaps flows better than previous ones did.
Staples such as Did I Break The Law? and My Babe Says That He Loves Me are interspersed with less familiar live numbers including Take Me To The River and Breaker Of Chains.
The stage here is narrow and deep, which means the rhythm section spend the evening some way back behind the Bonds.
But despite their physical positioning, James Fox on drums and bassist Adam Bowers are as central to tonight’s performance as Aaron and Grace are, and it’s a polished and tight performance from the quartet. If you didn’t know otherwise you wouldn’t guess this is the first night of the tour.
The venue is decent – or even “peng”, as apparently they say around here. But there seems to be a reluctance from many people to budge even half an inch to let you move anywhere (“I’ve got my place and I’m staying right here, thank you very much”), which makes it a job and a half to get to what must be the poshest bogs to be found at a music venue.
It’s equally tricky getting to the bar, although the good thing about the locals’ insistence on staying where they are is that once you do get to the bar, you can pretty much plonk yourself there all night and enjoy a good view of proceedings.
And unlike at many gigs, this is an audience that knows when to respectfully keep quiet, such as in the haunting Talking In My Sleep duet between Aaron and Grace that proves to be one of tonight’s many high points.
Other highlights include Like What You See? – one of their earliest songs – which has an addictive country groove to it while Free Man and Shoot The Breeze deliver an irresistible bounce.
As usual, Grace excels not just with her wonderful voice but also on mandolin and violin, while Aaron’s vocals perfectly complement those of his wife.
Perfect Stranger, the second brand new song tonight, is another riff-heavy rocker that’s immediately followed by the earworm that is Testify, and then the main set comes to an end with Lost And Found.
They quickly return, of course, for a three-song encore that includes Tomorrow and Make A Grown Man Cry – another “oldie” added to the live list – before it all concludes with Want Your Love (which is much more upbeat than the studio version).
Ably backed by Bowers and Fox, the Bonds have been on top form all night, sounding fresh and invigorated.
It’s a great start to the tour, and if the next few dates see them get even tighter, it’s going to be one hell of a trek.