Unlike when he toured a few years ago, and unlike his recent performances opening for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (fans of his former band, Ride), Mark Gardener has a full band on his tour supporting his solo album, These Beautiful Ghosts (United for Opportunity). The members of Goldrush are taking a break from their country-tinged indie to round out Gardener’s solo efforts for this tour. He’s only got an hour tonight, though, and that doesn’t sound like nearly enough time to unveil his new songs and Ride fans’ favorites. We’re a bit on edge to find out what he’s going to give us.
Gardener looks resplendent and classy in black button-up shirt and jacket, and his dignified manner gives way to utmost friendliness when he greets us. In his mellifluous yet clipped Oxford accent, he apologizes that the gig is on a Sunday, when everyone is tired and gearing up for the work week. “Are you gonna make it to the end of the show?” he teases. “I’m not sure!”
The gig opens with a rousing version of “Snow in Mexico,” and the slide guitar of Goldrush’s Garo Nahoulakian sings a sweet counterpoint to Gardener’s swaying vocals. Unfortunately, the sound is off and the mixing is terrible, so the songs are jarring and not as engaging as they are on the record. It’s a shame: Gardener is clearly enjoying himself up there and trying to share that with us.
Things get sonically worse as Gardener and the others try to harmonize on Crosby Stills & Nash-influenced “Rhapsody.” Gardener’s voice doesn’t have a lot of range, but that was part of Ride’s charm, his plaintive vocals underpinning the longing in the lyrics. This weakness, though usually endearing, is all too evident live. He does treat us to “Taste,” an early-Ride favorite, but that’s the only Ride song we get, probably due to the time restriction.
Standout tracks from These Beautiful Ghosts such as “Magdalen Sky” and the title track aren’t on the set list either, and these are the songs that radiated from Live at the Knitting Factory (2004), which featured early versions of them. It was enchanting to be in the presence of the reinvented Gardener, but because he played songs that smacked too much of Synchronicity-era Police and ’60s acoustic harmonizers such as Crosby, Stills & Nash and Simon & Garfunkel – songs that need to be mixed properly to resonate live – the show fell flat.
United For Opportunity Web site