I’m sat here in my Watching From A Distance t-shirt wondering how to do an objective review of this album. As a general rule I do try to be balanced and fair in my assessments; I imagine the 13 year old David who maybe had enough cash to buy one album per month – I owe it to him to be honest and follow my rule so that he doesn’t end up buying Moby’s Animal Rights album again.
There are of course exceptions to every rule. ‘Thou shalt not wear a t-shirt of the band you are going to see’ is the easiest one to point to, as everyone knows and agrees that if you’re going to see Iron Maiden then it’s an actual legal requirement to wear a Maiden shirt. For this review I’m going to force myself to make one qualifying critical comment about Watching From A Distance – Live At Roadburn, and everything else is going to be unapologetic rampant fanboy-gushing!
What we have here is a live recording of Warning’s 2017 Roadburn set where they played their classic 2006 album, Watching From a Distance, in its entirety. It was set free to the world on September 24th via Cappio Records on vinyl, and via the usual outlets for digital files. I didn’t see this show, but I did catch them at Damnation doing the same set, and as a long time Warning fan who never got to see them live first time around, it was borderline dream-come-true territory. The band hadn’t performed for years, and haven’t done since, so the news that this show was going to be next up in the Roadburn Live series of releases made me frothy with excitement.
The Live At Roadburn releases have been a real set of highlights over the last few years. Personally speaking, my favourites have been the Yob albums, but I’m not aware of any of them disappointing anyone. Something about Roadburn brings out the best in so many of the acts that play there. Whether it’s the venues, the uniquely attentive crowd, or the fact that often bands are brought back together especially for this event or are playing a unique set…whatever the reason, Roadburn provokes committed performances and Warning’s only serves to further demonstrate this.
If you are new to Warning, or new at least to Watching From A Distance, then I am intensely jealous. It is without doubt one of the cornerstones of the modern doom genre – I’d go so far as to say it’s a cornerstone of my record collection too. It’s rare that three months go by without my listening to it at least once. I’m jealous of anyone who gets to discover this album for the first time. However, what Live At Roadburn has done is at least allow me to re-discover Watching From A Distance, which is the next best thing.
The guitar sounds are lush and room-filling, the drums have just the right amount of reverb and sound huge, and best of all is Patrick Walker’s vocals…
All five tracks are near perfectly delivered. Yes, there is the odd missed note, but this doesn’t matter when, as a whole, the performance is delivered with such sincerity. My favourite track, Footprints, is maybe even more solemn and uplifting than on the original album, and that’s a huge claim to make.
I won’t go into a track-by-track analysis – it would only serve to waste time that could be better spent listening to the damn thing! All I would say is that these five songs are as beautiful and relevant today as they were when they were first written. Songs that are so honest will always have a special resonance, and this performance captures it brilliantly.
The recording is top quality – like other Roadburn releases, there’s no whiff of bootleg about these, they are expertly produced and stand up to some of the best live recordings I’ve heard. The guitar sounds are lush and room-filling, the drums have just the right amount of reverb and sound huge, and best of all is Patrick Walker’s vocals. It seems that with age his voice has gained greater depth than before. I really do believe that the vocal performances here actually outstrip those on the original album.
And so, to my one tiny critical note on this wonderful document. I’ve just mentioned how great Patrick Walker’s vocals are, but to my ears the mix boosts the level of them by just a touch too much. I’m talking fractions here; I would probably drop the level of the vocals by 10% and I’d consider the mix to be perfect. There you go – my one criticism is out there, and I can think of myself as an objective commentator once again.
This live album has been a great gift in the short time I’ve been listening to it. The original Watching From A Distance album is one of my desert island discs, so to hear it delivered in this live setting again and again is a brilliant alternative way to experience it. Time will tell as to how often I will go back to this, as opposed to the original, but at the moment listening to either one makes me want to immediately turn to the other – the experiences are equally rewarding.
It’s not often that I get to review a classic, and one that means so much to me personally. For anyone with even a passing interest in the original album I would recommend giving this a listen. And for those of you that are lucky enough to have never heard it before and are just beginning on the Watching From A Distance voyage…I envy you.
Scribed by: David J McLaren