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Empty Country @ The Oslo (Live Review)

  • Published in Live

Empty Country

The Oslo, London

Words & pics by Captain Stavros

What do you think would happen if there was a food processor the size of a room?  I mean, there probably is somewhere, but what about right here, on this page?  Well, prepare to be amazed because there is, without any of the messy clean up either!  What if we told you we were going to take 1992’s Irish export Ash, chuck in a whole heap of American mid ‘90s trio, Ben Folds Five, with a generous helping of none other than the Blue album maestro’s themselves, Weezer?  Will it blend?  It sure will, but will it also be a textureless mass, that’d be an acquired taste for most, you ask?   Also yes! Welcome to our quick and dirty, with a no fuss clean-up, review of Empty Country.

We must’ve been distracted whilst haphazardly listening to the new single ‘David’ from Empty Country II (out now on Tough Love Records), Joseph D'Agostino (Cymbals Eat Guitars) solo project, because we asked to check-out the one-off performance last week at The Oslo.  Taking the stairs two by two, as is our reckless style, we made it to the gig halfway through the opening act’s performance.  The crowd up here, like the air and the music, was pretty thin.  We lingered near the back, catching up with a friend who’d also just come out of Dream Scenario (would recommend) and came with us to catch this show, which, we would not recommend.

Empty Country came on, and although the crowd fattened up, we had lost our appetite for the gig by the third song, whatever it was.  It was the porridge of all gigs, just a bunch of mush without any texture.  One song blended into the other and we couldn't really hear the lyrics (or chose not to) from where we were standing which, at this point, was right at the front.  Halfway through the gig D’Agostino, who was hitting the high notes like…..we don't wanna say eunuch, but think eunuch, but we’re definitely not saying it, got pretty emotional.  Lamenting on, and being appreciative about, where he was in life because a couple of years prior, he didn't know where he would be, he carried on like this for a time, almost completely breaking down.  Listen, don’t get us wrong, appreciation is in our Top Five but pandering to a crowd and reminiscing about the pandemic is a cut we do not need to keep hearing on heavy rotation, jeez Louise already!  It was hard enough to get into the groove when even the band’s feet stayed cemented to the ground as their top halves, semi-deflated, swung around like those dancing used car lot balloon people things.

That being said, the Oslo was pretty full, we’d say almost half full, and is there anything wrong with porridge in the end?  Some people seem to think not.  Sure, you can zhuzh it up with cinnamon, raisins, honey, fruit, you name it, but it's still just porridge in the end.  In the end, for good or ill, no one got hurt.  Is there anything wrong with heading to a failing brewery on a Tuesday night to catch the resident band who just so happens to be the less than hoppy, Coors Light of bands?  We’re looking at you, Empty Country.  If you ask us, maybe.  If you ask your friends and they say, ‘certainly not!’, we will not argue with you.  We might, however, take a rain-check the next time a gig is recommended.






JW Francis @ The Oslo, London

  • Published in Live


JW Francis

@ The Oslo, London

Words & pics by Captain Stavros 


Walking into The Oslo and hearing a person, with their back to you, who you’ve never met before in your life pronounce your full name (perfectly) out loud to a ticket attendant is a bit unnerving.  To say the least.  As they say however, timing is everything and this is how we met Paige, label rep for Sunday Best Records.  After sharing a conversation at length and making new friends on the congested stairwell, surely a fire-marshals worst nightmare, I was told JW was hanging out upstairs if I felt like having a chat.  Removing ourselves as part-time human obstructions on the escalator, we hopped up the last few steps and popped through the doors.  What we were greeted by behind the merch table was a person resembling what could very well be the lovechild of Bob Ross and Agador.  Casually dressed in an Elmo hoody, baseball cap and funk specs, he gently tilted his head up in our direction and lit up the room with that bright and perfectly toothed smile that songs are likely written about, by himself.  Introducing JW Francis, aforementioned lovechild and entertainment for the evening.

Our first impression was, wow, probably the nicest person we’ve met in recent memory, we’ve heard some say ever.  Did you know he writes love songs for people upon request given they provide the reason why their loved one is indeed so loved they’re worthy of song?  Every year a few weeks before Valentines Day, mark the date!  We exchanged pleasantries and he asked how we were doing, we said it was a weird one today and full of coincidences.  We had just finished talking about the film Rubber, where a sentient tyre goes on a killing spree and the latest Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode.  He then smiled wider, as if it were even possible, and lifted his Elmo hoody to expose a Simpsons’ t-shirt where they were all skeletons, no joke.  JW went on to say he’s glad we brought up The Simpsons because he would love to just sit down for a week and play 2003’s Simpsons – Hit & Run.

We learned that for the last two years, it’s been a particularly hectic time and it’s mainly been spent travelling without a place he can call a proper home.  He’s been bouncing around three points consistently; Paris, where his parental units live; Oklahoma where his grandma lives, and London because it’s London.  Not to mention New York, where he’s got a strong base.  JW is looking to set down roots though but there’s just too much to see.  We agree.  He’d also like to play everywhere, not just the places people go but where people live.  Our friend offered up Hull. JW: “I wanna go to places where people don't know me, they’ll say ‘hey, what are you doing here? Why did you come here?’ For you!”

Later in the evening as a call-back to our earlier conversation, he engaged the audience, something he’d be doing a lot of this evening and was genuinely skilled at; “I’m going touring and I’ll go to all kinds of places, like Hull!”  Almost without hesitation someone in the audience yelled out it was a shithole.  “Exactly!”, way to keep them on their toes.  JW started off the set by immediately going backstage as if to encore break, turns out his guitar hadn’t gotten the memo about the set.  On returning, he spent a good chunk of time giving shout outs to the audience and entourage before the set starter and the guitar was lost and found a la peekaboo.

Francis has effortless showmanship, charisma for days, making up for a lack of talent?  No, it’s there in buckets.  If you’d mentioned to some friends that you’d be watching a grown man hopping across the stage like a hairy frog in an Elmo hoody earlier that day, you’d likely be spending the evening in a room with padded walls and missing the gig entirely.  In the darkened Oslo however, the infectious positivity left no one unscathed and no light not blinking madly.  Even when track two, ‘Casino’ plays out.  I've disappeared into an empty dark casino/I'm wondering what the song is where they say, "Su destino"/And no one knows I'm broke and breaking promises still/And that's what's in my comic books that I'm writing, Bill”.

It’s all sung with a ‘say yes, can-do’ attitude.  By the fourth track, JW played a new one, ‘Orbit’.  This one’s about falling in love”, and so the audience did.  Francis, upon hearing the commotion, reminisced for a moment.  London! I had a show a few years back, it had six people at it. Now, there are a whole lot more but, it's still expensive.’  True say, falling in love is expensive.  Stoking the crowd and engaging is never easy, especially when you notice the energy dipping, but energy never ends up dipping at his shows.  Track 11, ‘Dreamhouse’ reminded JW of an anecdote he felt compelled to share.  Dreamhouse is a song about missing your Mom, but when she’s been in the audience for the past couple of shows yelling WOOOOO, it’s a bit difficult’.  The set was rocked with upbeat tunes like ‘Dream Big’ where Francis starts off by saying, “It’s the weekend, right? I dunno, I’ll play another instrument”.  It was Thursday and the instrument turned out to be a very tiny keyboard on a stool.  Throughout the evening, JW would attempt on at least four occasions to get the day of the week right which would ultimately prove a fruitless endeavour.

What he did do however, is give everyone the show they’d come to see, commentary, showmanship and skills to pay them bills.  Although you’d never know it from another anecdote we feel worth sharing.  If you didn’t know already, we certainly didn’t, Francis has a song on Rock Band 4 called ‘Going Home to a Party’.  My song made it on Rock Band 4, but they don't make the controller anymore. I've beat it on hard at 98% but not expert, and I wrote it.”  Is this the part where we give you a moral to the review or suggest catching him on tour?  No, if you’re not convinced by the above we’re afraid to say nothing likely would convince you.  No, here’s the part where you get one final piece of advice to part with.  JW, “Don't call people right cunts walking around, thought it meant ‘hey bro’”.







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