Bright Eyes and BisEdit this event
After Mogwai's appearance last month it was the other half of the famed Glasgow Guitar Army who took the Shepherds Bush Empire by storm tonight. Arab Strap approach Mogwai's live intensity at times, combining a more laid back sound with Aidan's entertaining stories and lyrics.
Support on the night came from US lo-fi star Conor Oberst and the wonderful Bright Eyes. He seems friendly and a little nervous on stage - perhaps slightly overwhelmed by the tortured pin-up image that has built up around his work. When the songs start it all becomes clear - this is possibly the rawest and most intense acoustic-based music ever gets. Conor writhes in his chair whispering and screaming about love, loss, bitterness and regret, while his backing band builds the acoustic beginnings of beautiful songs into frenzied emotional tirades. We were treated to a brief selection of songs from **'Fevers and Mirrors' and the recently re-released 'Letting off the happiness', with some new songs including one gloriously noisy number dedicated to Aidan from Arab Strap because 'it's about fucking'.
A brilliant set then. Too bad that he was kicked off stage for a marathon 45 mintue set by naff indie disco relics Bis. If this were a drunken disco at 2am they might've gone down a treat but instead their soundalike indie dance anthems just drew a bored ambivalence from most of the audience.
The first thing you notice when watching Arab Strap is the alarming amount they drink on stage. With six cans of lager lined up for each band member you expect it to degenerate into a drunken mess but if anything it makes the set more enjoyable. They played a large selection from their sizeable back catalogue, with extra help to transform their original 'two men with a guitar and drum machine' musings into an intense live post-rock experience. What distinguishes them from ex-labelmates Mogwai is of course their unique brand of vocals - Glaswegian tales of love, sex and infidelity, half-spoken half-sung with an increasing openess as Aidan downs his nth pint on stage. The songs are interspersed with drunken chat, culminating in an entertaining tale concerning the sexual exploits of two twin sisters, related to us with cabaret keyboard backing and much laughter. I'll leave the details to your imagination...
While this all sounds rather haphazard, the music is always tight and compelling, mixing noisy instrumental climaxes with quieter melancholy. Songs from the new release 'The Red Thread' are particularly good, the single especially, combining a more upbeat dancy feel with Arab Strap's much loved guitar and vocal styles.
While initially I wondered how they could make their recorded material work in a live setting, I am now totally convinced, having seen them show off both their musical skills and the all-important ability to turn the seriousness of post-rock into a highly entertaining show. They go highly recommended.
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