Well, BM never thought she would see the day – Falkirk’s finest back in action after all this time…
The anticipation was fairly palpable given that other BM family members (yes BM does have a “family”, not like the Manson family, well only a bit) attended the first, sold out within minutes on Saturday, reports were that it probably breached the fire limit (so sue me) and was “like a sauna” (well BM would know…) and looking at the setlist on this and previous Newcastle/London/Manc dates it was pretty tasty, not just a best of but some delectable turns, including a request section…oooh ah…
Family commitments meant that BM only saw second support Man of Moon’s last song, but compared to last sighting supporting the Sad at the same venue Last December (call for a TTS tune…) they have grown in sound, in depth and in the complexity of the riffs and effects. As a two-piece they are making noises like QOTSA, possibly the White Stripes and also DFA1979, all good to these ears. And the EP sounds pretty good too, just sorry BM did not catch more but there are more shows in December, I think…
Next up, in a relatively quiet venue (defo bit of a Sunday night thing, the dreaded school night for people who do stuff in schools, but it was NOT a school night because the schools were ON FCCCing HOLIDAY all of next week) were Bossy Love. So here is the question – WHY WAS NOBODY DANCING TO BOSSY LOVE? You deadbeat fuckers, Arab Strap always referenced dancing, many AS songs have a bouncing beat, some remixes sanctioned by AS are even a wee bit ravey, “the Arches…” referenced in their first single, oh FFS sometimes BM does despair… This was a very up for it, funky (ooff, you know readers that BM only uses this word in a pure context) three piece band (drums, singer, bass/geetar) playing infectious pop music, and only a handful of people moved a muscle. ‘Call Me Up’, ‘Sweat It Out’, yes it times the vibe was defo a bit suggestive, was seeing a very lovely lady get a bit jiggy with it actually intimidating for people? – well fuck that. BM actually tweeted BL to apologise for this non-crowd reaction – more fool them, BL will go far.
Arab Strap’s reputation goes before them, their Wikipedia page is however at times harsh: a “focus on drink, drugs, and existentially bereft versions of sexuality.” That does kinda miss the black humour, really black but then if you hail fae Falkirk…(sorry) Anyway the Strap started as a duo (the Simon and Garfunkel of Scottish indie, nah me neither…) in the 90s, first “hit” and Peel fave ‘The First Big Weekend’ introduced the world to Aidan’s deadpan earthy vocals and Malc’s guitar backing, vicious and subtle in equal measure. As the albums and tours piled up they explored further and more complex musical and artistic heights but after ten years they split in 1996 with some legendary gigs including two at ABC1 here in Glasgow.
Betty attended this and a number of previous ones, most memorable possibly being BM’s first ever at the Mitchell Theatre supporting The Delgados (Chemikal signed them and stuck with them, even after they defected for a time to GoBeat for a taste of London sophistication, didn’t suit them but credit to Chem for picking up where they left off, especially the sublime and mighty ultimately last altbum ‘The Last Romance’, which probably took the Strap about as far as they could go and was in BM’s humble opinion a supreme artistic achievement, melding the profane with the beautiful in some epic postcards from the edge of sanity… As a touring unit they always were much more than just the core duo, with regular departing band members creating some racket, including guitar hero riffs from Malc, amazing drumming usually courtesy of someone else but sometimes Aidan and Mr Moffat’s little keyboard monsters which often induced a ravey element, yes it did bloody work, think of aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel crossed with SFA vs Girls Aloud… really!
So after an amicable split and 10 years of doing other stuff (much of which BM has reviewed, Wells and Moffat ‘Getting Older’ album is an absolute Scottish Classic and Malc’s efforts have also been at times outstanding, although a reprise of Crappo the Clown may not be the best idea in the current circumstances… let us leave it at that…)
With excellent timing (20 years since first outing) the decision to reform for a tour was absolutely a “no pressure then” situation… well was it fuck! So they book the Barras, it sells out in something ridiculous, with really no “record company” or mainstream publicity whatsoever, just a wee thing on a website in that inimitable typeface from the original records: “Hello again”.
So, after a play-through of the BA Robertson Scotland World Cup 82 ‘I Have a Dream’ track, and the strains of ‘Loch Leven’ the band came on and launched into a low-key version of ‘Stink’. And so there was Aidan, in shorts and pacing nervously at times, Malc strapping on the guitar for immediate Strap action, the incredibly talented and probably long-suffering Jenny Reeve on violin, plus drums keyboards and bass (not sure if they have seen live Strap action before, several of them looked too young!). This was a muscular and no-nonsense unit and they proceeded to mine the back-catalogue very deeply, playing all the live faves, some obscurities and a lot more, 22 songs in all, clocking in at around two hours.
The original bearded hipster (Mr Moffat to you and BM) was absolutely note-perfect, apart from when ‘Turbulence’ fell apart, not even sure why that happened! He very professionally asked the audience if they wanted them to try this one again, and they said yes, and the band did, to great success.
The main thing is that these songs stand the test of time, in some cases 20 years of time, the variation in tempo, the subtle instrumentation (ok at times pimped up here in the live context), a wide body of work which puts them right in the middle of Scottish (and UK, maybe the word) music of the era. At one point Aidan referred to themselves as a “heritage act”, well there is life in the old dog yet, fuck yes, and while it would be too much to hope for new Strap material well they can certainly say that they took care of more unfinished business, and then some.
There were brooding moments (‘Fucking Little Bastards’, ‘The Clearing’), epic moments (‘Don’t Ask Me To Dance’) and just sublime moments (BM fave ‘The Shy Retirer’, a song of Mozart-esque perfect construction), from the profane to the sacred in several minutes. The biggest moments were inevitably ‘The Last Great Weekend’, almost nostalgic in its time, the reference to The Arches now being especially poignant given the ridiculously stupid GCC/PS fronted closure last year, a total waste you fucking idiots… and ‘There Is No Ending’, its corny riff echoing around what is still “probably the best venue in the world”(!).
The acoustic requests, after a mass singalong during an acoustic ‘Packets of Three’ (“it was the biggest…” etc), were hilarious but really well performed, both Aidan and Malc shaking their heads at some (written on cards and posted at the merch stand earlier) suggestions but eventually going for ‘Forest Hills’, ‘Not Quite a Yes’ and ‘Meanwhile at the Bar…’ good choices!
As BM mentioned before, Aidan’s wee keyboard setup induced (along with the rest of the band) induced several mini rave/guitar feedback meltdowns, especially ‘Girls of Summer’, the sheer sexual frustration of the verses turning musically into a massive, loud but precision-guided wig-out, Donald Trump on a bike… (and of course BM’s fave ever Strap remix was the Bis version of ‘Turbulence’, that could induce movement in a corpse FFS).
Overall the approach was a dignified (no really) trawl through an amazing range of previous possibilities, and this may possibly be the gig of the year so far. As ‘Afternoon Soaps’ drew to a close, BM also mused on the general influence of the Strap on the Scottish music scene in general, through releases and collaborations – Frabbit, TTS, even the mere idea that “going to London” was not the be all and end all, so credit again to Chemikal. And signing with a Scottish accent, well back in the 1990s you had the Proclaimers, Runrig and…especially in a broad Falkirk accent, good god…
Thanks so much Arab Strap for enriching BM’s and so many other lives with your miserable, sexually debauched and drink/drug filled dirges, BM salutes the Strap and all who contributed to the show tonight. xx.
(video courtesy Youtube user Stiggypopkid)