Live Review: Skinny Lister at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA

In a follow up to September’s “Xtra Mile Party Tour”, labelmates Skinny Lister and Beans on Toast hit the road in the US again, this time with Skinny Lister headlining and with a new addition to the Xtra Mile roster, Will Varley, in tow. The Cambridge, MA date was the first on the tour to sell out, and the room filled almost immediately after the doors opened.

Will Varley started his set with “As For My Soul”, the first track on his most recent album, Postcards from Ursa Minor. He won his audience over immediately, using an exaggerated operatic voice and cracking jokes between verses. He even managed to get the crowd to participate in a sing-along for the first song of the night. Varley went on to a “crowd’s choice”, asking his audience to choose between monkeys and cats. The cats won out, and Varley performed “Talking Cat Blues”, a song which draws clear influence from Johnny Cash and pokes fun of internet culture, Kanye West, and David Cameron all in the span of a few minutes. The worst part about Varley’s set was that it was only five songs. With the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, he could have easily played a few more if time allowed.

Beans on Toast was up next for his third performance at the Middle East in just over a year.  Beans’ drunk-folk style came through during his set, as he told stories and sang songs about peace, love, and chicken farms. Before playing the song “Fuck You Nashville”, he explained that he had recently been back to Nashville for the first time since writing the song, but everything was ok and they were now “in on the joke”. Beans ended his set by bringing Will Varley back to the stage to play a song from their new rap collaboration. I’m not sure how I feel about Beans’ rapping abilities, but Varley was quite a beatboxer.

When Skinny Lister came to the stage, the crowd were in an uproar. The band played a great mix of rowdy crowd pleasers, like “This Is War” and “Raise a Wreck”, and slower pieces like “Colours”. They were even able to intersperse a few new tracks from their upcoming album into the set. “Grace” was a particular favorite. Before the set was over, lead vocalist and guitarist Dan Heptinstall had promised the crowd that the band would be back in the states in November, once the new album was finished. This news was arguably the only part of the set that made the audience happier than the flagon of rum that Skinny Lister pass around at every show.

In the back of the room, far from the stage, there was also a table set up for Love Hope Strength, an organization that tables at concerts and encourages attendees to “get on the list” as potential bone marrow donors. Each performer gave the organization a shout out during their set, emphasizing the importance of getting swabbed to save lives. At the end of the night, 23 of the 194 audience members had been added to the list.

After the show came to a close, many of the artists came into the crowd or stood by the merch tables, signing autographs, taking selfies, and making friends. With another exciting evening with the Xtra Mile family in the books, I’m sure many Bostonians will be back for more when the fall tour comes around.

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