In the launch of a new acoustic tour in 2007 – to feature such luminaries as Emma Pollock, BMX Bandits and My Latest Novel – the lineup of acts on this launch night wasn’t too shabby either, with three acts lining up to entertain dedicated fans and industry scenesters alike. (Product placement alert, sample packages to the address below – it’s officially the Versacoustic night and tour; named after the sponsor’s new lager, tiny shot-sized glasses of which fuel the throng… review: basically a lager version of their Tennents Velvet and as such rather more palatable than their usual brand of festival-floating brew.)
The Yellow Bentines, oddly, were best placed for the gig in many respects. Perhaps playing to a more sober and appreciative audience, their piano-driven brand of acoustic pop – relax, more Ben Folds and Badly Drawn Boy than Keane – contains a few good hooks and that can’t-quite-place-it familiarity in the singer’s tones. But the distinctive (read: Unique Selling Point, for the marketers present) is the mournful trumpet which flits in and out of the sparse mix and has any doubters who asked “who?” when the bill was announced eating their words.
This isn’t a question you might ask of Popup. Today is their hundredth gig (ever? this month?) but a rarity, as a drummer-less 3-piece. Though happily Adrienne is participating – I say happily less because of any predictable ‘`glamour’ aspect (we can’t see the band anyway) and more that her pure harmonies are one standout feature of Popup’s music. Truth be told, the acoustic setup isn’t perfect for them – it does showcase their versatility such as when bassist Michael joins them for a bass-and-vocals-only ‘Stagecoach’ – but the unplugged nature does stop them from , put simply, rocking out. Indeed, there are only so many songs they can strip down from their electric roots, so there’s even a cover of ‘All of Me’, which works well enough. If they’re to play another 100 gigs in the same short time then such diversions will hopefully keep them fresh.
James Yorkston is a man familiar with acoustic work, as you might expect from a Fence artist. Without his Athletes, this is a decidedly low-key set, to the point where, when he opens his set, half the audience don’t even realise he’s taken the stage until a round of “shhh” quietens the throng.
Later Yorkston joins in with the crowd-quietening measures – “caught shushing at my own gig!” he chastens himself – but inbetween there’s a period of calm, and hes able to run through ‘Someplace Simple’, invite a female backing singer onstage (lovely harmonies, dodgy whistling), and even fulfill a request, for ‘A Friday Night In New York’.
There’s also a cover of a song by some friends who, we’re informed, are down at the SECC supporting Placebo. This turns out to be the Archie Bronson Outfit’s ‘Ballad For the Bleeding Hearts’ and works considerably better than the original. And better than the song which follows, owing to its being in ‘A’ and Yorkston’s harmonica being in E flat minor. Moothie-wielding former Bluebell Ken McCluskey stumbles onstage in a bid to sort things out but the resulting yowl sound merely doubles the cat-strangulation quotient. Though it does have a sobering effect on the audience, which at this point in the proceedings, is just what was required.