Holding Absence have had one hell of a year. In spite of the COVID pandemic, they’ve managed not only to release one of the best albums of the year (The Greatest Mistake Of My Life), but play a big part in the return of live music to the UK. Starting off with what was by all accounts a superb performance at the Download Pilot, more acclaim came from spots at Reading and Leeds, and Slam Dunk North and South. It seemed fitting then that they would be one of the first bands to get a full, proper, UK tour going with restrictions lifted, with two eagerly anticipated support bands (As Everything Unfolds and Yours Truly) – one of whom had come from halfway around the world to take part in the tour – another sign of things, perhaps, slowly returning to somewhere near normal.
Regular readers to this site will know occasionally I throw out the normal rules of rock journalism for reviews or events that carry particular personal significance. This is one of those. I made the trek to Oxford in the company of my eight year old daughter. All three bands on the line up for this tour are firm favourites of both of us, and have been in heavy rotation in the car since all three’s recent albums came out. The fact that the Oxford show on this tour had an 8+ age limit rather than the usual 14+ meant I could bring her along, and it was an opportunity too good not to take.
Owing to motorways being what they are, by the time we found somewhere to park in Oxford 90 minutes later than planned, As Everything Unfolds (8) could already be heard blasting out as we headed up the stairs into Oxford’s O2 Academy 2. Thankfully we hadn’t missed much, because front woman Charlie Rolfe and the rest of As Everything Unfolds were on blistering form. Anyone who saw their performance back at the Download Pilot in June will know just how good the material from their huge success debut album Within Each Lies The Other sounds live, and they brought that form with them to Oxford. Songs like Greyscale and the set closing On The Inside sounded absolutely enormous. They are a band absolutely destined for big things, and they will not be on opening slots like this (even on tour packages as good as this one was) for much longer. Get in on the ground floor before they get huge.
When it was announced that Aussie natives Yours Truly (8) were part of this tour, many wondered whether they’d successfully be able to take part, particularly given Australia’s COVID rules being far stricter than here in the UK. By hook or by crook, Mikaila and the boys made it to our shores and what a good thing it was that they did. They may be the lightest band on this bill by far but Yours Truly’s brand of pop punk / pop rock was hugely popular with the ever growing crowd. Performance wise there are zero signs of jet lag, although one or two bits of Aussie flavoured banter may have gone over the heads of some in attendance. Who knew that Just Eat was called Menu Log in Australia though? You learn something new every day. The 40 minute set gives everyone in attendance a full spread from Yours Truly’s relatively short life as a band, the bulk of tracks coming from last years’ smash album Self Care, as well as singles old (Circles) and new (the excellent Walk Over My Grave). Closing off with their breakthrough hit High Hopes, this is a perfect introduction to Yours Truly for the newcomers, and a glorious showcase of everything good about them for those who are already big fans.
Anticipation is high for Holding Absence (10). Even more from a personal perspective as a very kind couple gave my daughter their spot on the barrier right at the front so she had the proverbial front row seat (thank you again if you happen to read this). As anyone who’s followed Holding Absence over the last year or so will tell you, the build just waiting for that initial “I’m Allliiiiivveeee” that signals the start of Celebration Song is massive. Hearing that song live for the first time is a very special experience; band and crowd united as one. It feels like the pain, frustration and emotions of the last eighteen months are poured out across the Oxford O2 Academy in the space of three minutes.
The next hour goes by in a flash, feeling like its about ten minutes. The set is an excellent mix of material from the fabulous Greatest Mistake Of My Life, choice cuts from the debut self titled Holding Absence album, and the two fabulous singles that were released early in the pandemic, Birdcage and Gravity, both highlights in a set full of them. Everything is note perfect. Mikaila from Yours Truly to take the place of Lucas Woodland’s sister Caitlin on Die Alone (In Your Lovers’ Arms) and does a fabulous job with it, and it’s followed by an impressive drum solo from Ash Green. The end is hit after hit. Gravity, Like A Shadow, In Circles and Afterlife (for which the place absolutely exploded]) landing one after another. Lucas’s vocals (as one has come to expect from him now) are exceptional throughout. Wilt is in it’s place as traditional set closer, and it’s emotional as ever. During the mid song lull, Lucas spotted my daughter, leapt off the stage and gave her a setlist, thus further confirming his status as one of the nicest people in rock and metal. The band had made several comments before, during and after this tour about how much it bothered them not to be able to come out and meet fans the way they normally would, but they were still finding ways to make things extra special for fans, just like this.
Tours like this often struggle to live up to the anticipation and hype generated beforehand, but this one not only matched it, it exceeded it. It’d be fantastic to repeat this tour in a couple of years, but in much bigger venues. All three bands would be very deserving of rapid increased levels of success. A wonderful, wonderful evening.