Glasgow Nice'n'Sleazy (Thursday 17th November)
“We wrote these songs as boys but play them tonight as men” offers Aidan Moffat by way of introduction, before launching into ‘Packs Of Three’, one tiny part of a catalogue of 10 years of tears, sweat and other bodily fluids.
William Harness, as the not-so-secret billing names them, are Aidan and Malcolm Middleton, reunited “for one night only” to celebrate the 20th birthday of Sleazy’s, the duo’s favourite venue (and pub).
Preceding the main attraction are two acts of considerable quality – “post-flamenco” guitarist RM Hubbert would usually be a hard act to follow, not to mention The Twilight Sad, a band on top form and clearly inspired if not directly influenced by tonight’s headliners – indeed, singer James relays graphically how, er, “excited” he is to be supporting his heroes.
He wisely decides to leave further dick jokes to the headliners, for tonight is Arab Strap’s night. Like their guests, they’re pretty much in acoustic mode, with just the drum machine (the basis for some fairly surreal ‘heckles’) as backing.
The setlist for this special one-off gig spans their 10 year career but draws heavily and appropriately from the earlier material, the aforementioned opener, ‘Here We Go’ and ‘Piglet’ all from their career-defining album Philophobioa – the one with the big scary pic of a naked Aidan on the front. Both members are far from the fresh-faced youths of the early albums, but haven’t changed much physically since the band split five years ago. Indeed, their busy solo careers have ensured there’s no rustiness about their performance – indeed, Aidan’s semi-sung vocal could almost be described by the old cliche “velvety” while Malcolm’s guitar work is as ever a delight and provides the ideal backdrop for the Strap’s take on real life as seen via a grimy microscope.
Around halfway in, Aidan stops to lecture a front row-chatterer – the sold-out, largely invite-crowd has until this point watched all three acts in reverential silence, and the threat of expulsion has the desired effect. The singer lightens the mood by confessing that when the band split he’d considered becoming a teacher – it may not come as a surprise that he eventually decided that he didn’t think he’d have the temperament.
Meanwhile, another minor disagreement, this time between the duo over the next song, inspires Malcolm to announce “That’s it, we’re splitting up”.
The guitar intros inspire whoops from the knowledgeable crowd members – ‘Amor Veneris’, ‘Shy Retirer’, and ‘Don’t Ask Me To Dance’ are greeted like old friends, but it’s the real veteran tunes like ‘Blood’ which steal the show.
And then, a quick wave, and they’re gone.
There’s time for just a couple of encores: Christmas comes prematurely with ‘To All A Good Night’ – a festive song, though “admittedly one that’s about drugs and shagging”. And then, of course, we know it’s over as the drum machine kicks in again to herald the only possible closer, ‘The First Big Weekend’. Aidan has to read from a lyric sheet, but even then it’s not quite right – whether it’s the New Strap or just a fear of who might be listening, the usually scathing lyrics are replaced by humourous asides: “I can’t believe anyone woudl say that about someone” the vocalist remarks about a previously libelled conquest, while his first ever girlfriend has “probably turned out a very nice person”.
Just before the encores there’s a rather protracted explanation about the reasons for this mini-reformation – inspired perhaps by internet rumours of its being a warm-up for a full-scale tour. The truth is, it’s just the band paying tribute to their favourite watering hole. If you spot them up the stairs at Sleazy’s (and you surely will), they’re not plotting a comeback. So buy them a pint and wish them well.
Aidan’s parting shot is a probably tongue-in-cheek “See you in 20 years”. It’s a date.Stuart McHugh