• glitter and doom;

    Lug 29 2008, 9:10

    Sun 27 Jul – Tom Waits

    I think the last show I saw at the Edinburgh Playhouse was Les Miserables, back when I was in high school. The 3,000 capacity theatre is no less an architecturally impressive venue now as it was then, although shoehorning myself into its seats is a little more difficult these days. The darkness, heavy curtains and smoky atmosphere (provided these days by dry ice machines, thanks to the smoking ban) set the scene perfectly - if we weren’t half a mile up into the air in the “cheap”, or at least £75, seats we could almost have convinced ourselves we were in some western wine bar with table service and a solitary piano. Clutching the cardboard chapbooks we were sold in place of programmes, we took our seats in plenty of time for the billed 8 o’clock sharp start… and waited.

    And waited some more. For it wouldn’t have been right, after the sky-high ticket prices and the tight security we had to go through in order to even get there, for the legend that is Tom Waits to be early. His first show on Scottish soil in, I am led to believe, 23 years, the evening promised to be something very special.

    When the houselights went down and the band moved into position in the shadows, all eyes were on the figure at the microphone in scruffy suit and pork pie hat. That famous gravelly baritone sounds even gruffer in person, and at first some of the lyrics to the many songs I didn’t know were lost in the massive venue, but it didn’t seem to matter. For the first part of his set Waits played the role of the vagrant jester, almost mute between songs but lapping up the wild applause of us devoted fans with wild, encouraging gestures.

    The second part of the night was perhaps the part I had anticipated the most. Moving over to piano, the lights down even lower, Waits picked out by a couple of spotlights which streaked by our heads up above like moonbeams. The mute comic persona gave way to the barfly, making wild observations about spiders and praying mantises that his wife made him promise not to tell. None of it makes any sense in the morning. For the first time the crowd, who saved their wild appreciation for when the band finished playing, were invited to sing along to “Innocent When You Dream”. It was magical.

    The evening finished with Waits on guitar, praying for rain while glitter showered on him from above - but not before an amazing double header of “Hang Down Your Head” and “Green Grass”. Watching an artist with a back catalogue as wide and varied as Waits’ means your favourites will undoubtedly be missed, but although there was much I didn’t know last night I didn’t feel short-changed. A brief encore, and the lights cheekily kept off a little longer than they needed to be afterwards, we were out into the night in time for the last train.

    Crooked Rain
    Last Year's Girl
  • when your heartstrings break;

    Nov 19 2007, 20:14

    Sun 18 Nov – Milenasong, The Kara Sea, Older And Far Away

    The chords of my heart are like the strings of a cello, and they sound with a warmth and richness. I keep meaning to pick up the old violin my Grandad bought me from my mother’s, but I always forget or it seems too much of a bother to carry it home. Pretty ridiculous when you consider I used to carry it in its case the mile and a half I walked to school every morning.

    I have a special place in my heart for string instruments - not guitars - in a live-band set up, and so I smile when I see Older And Far Away’s cello. “Should I be reviewing this?” I ask Kate, who is positively glowing with the excitement of putting on her first gig. “Only if you like it,” she says. “I hate it when I like something and you don’t. It doesn’t seem right somehow.”

    And then the band begin: strings, a little guitar, haunting female vocals. You think you’ve got the measure of them, but wait! The drums rolls, the bass kicks in, these songs are not as fragile as they appear. It’s the end of some heartbreaking piece of indie cinema: Zach Braff’s just said goodbye to the girl, it’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do but it’s the best thing for both of them. He jumps in the car, heads for the open road, wipes away a tear and flicks on the radio. This is the soundtrack to your life: comforting, familiar and always present. And you smile, because hearts heal over and you’ll always have the music.

    Roll credits.

    You get the impression that Older and Far Away are a relatively young band. Their songs are far from note-perfect, but this ramshackle nature only adds to their charm. And anybody who namechecks Uncle Tupelo on a stage in Glasgow is okay in my book.

    Tonight marks The Kara Sea’s triumphant return to the live circuit, and it would seem that the fates have conspired to make her reappearance as difficult as possible. Sarah Bradley has faced down worse things than a couple of dodgy cables though, and looks a knockout as she takes to the stage in a leather ensemble, toting a hastily drafted-in replacement guitar.

    Musically, The Kara Sea calls to mind Dylan’s Spanish-bound lover. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back again, she breathes into the telephone; it depends on how I’m feeling - and he is satisfied but she, she quietly replaces the receiver and walks outside where she lights a cigarette, takes a deep breath and sighs, watching as her breath crystalises the air in front of her. She might not be very far away in reality - perhaps she hasn’t even left the country - but that distance doesn’t have to be physical, and if you asked her where she was she probably wouldn’t tell you the truth. Recreated on stage her lovely vocals are richer, warmer, but that distance remains: a gorgeous shiver of evocative electronica, a certain blissful loneliness.

    In some respects tonight’s headliner, Milenasong, could be The Kara Sea’s darker, crazier sister. She is Mariella, the girl you were always to scared to go near in the playground - astonishingly beautiful, yet frightening at the same time. And then one day she disappeared but ten, twenty years later you still think of her on those nights when the wind blows and the rain batters the windows. It sounds like getting lost in the hall of mirrors at the funfair with the fairylights on: it’s beautiful, fractured and unsettling.
  • shake it like a holy roller, baby;

    Ago 23 2007, 14:48

    Sat 18 Aug – Eats Tapes

    Saturday night brought a typically eclectic bill from local nonprofit promoters Go-Ra-Ga, which I will attempt to review while showcasing my ignorance of most of the genres in the following fashion:

    Remember Remeber was (singular, for he is a solo act) the opening act. The music sounds as if it comes from far away: from under the sea perhaps, or over a tiny telephone line to the future, a place where the landscape is as hostile as it is pretty. And it deserves to be appreciated with your eyes closed, because as you watch the artist tear about the stage flipping this switch and discarding that percussive prop, you start to wonder if what you are experiencing is live music or an art installation. “D’you think he’s going to play that guitar round his neck?” I inquired of Stringer rather naughtily at one point. It was a disorientating experience for one used to the communal fire of rock ‘n’ roll.

    No such distance from the fairground ride of Gay Against You. I was looking forward to the set because I’d listened to something of theirs on Myspace once and it was shite - all strange electronic noises and screaming - which, in my experience, usually guarantees a good live show. Whether it was hanging from the rafters, using an audience member as a mike stand or playing the “big hit” in the men’s toilets - to the horror of the door staff - they did not disappoint.

    And neither did Eats Tapes, “acid rave” fronted by a bouncy young gym teacher type who got the crowd moving by means of some combination of Scissor Paper Stone and chearleader trials. I spent a lot of their set darting between the quieter sanctury of the door and the throngs of people gyrating in interesting ways down the front, but everybody seemed to be having a good time. Which, surely, is what it’s all about.

    [Cross-posted from <a href="">my blog</a>.]