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This, then, is the last show that Arab Strap are to play in London. You'd expect some emotion, some sign that this is a fond farewell, wouldn't you? A little moistened eye, a little longing glance at the audience? Nah, pish off ye bastard, ye.
As soon as Malcolm Middleton's sour little face pokes around the stage door, its obvious that this is to be, in attitude at least, business as usual. His partner in crime, Aidan Moffat, is not quite as sour, raising the odd eyebrow and corner of the mouth, but one still gets the impression that this is not to be a sentimental farewell, no matter how much the faithful pack of middle-aged males in the audience wants it to be. So the stage is set for a one-way show, one where, unusually, the emotion flows from the audience to the indifferent performers.
The first thing that strikes is the sheer muscle that Arab Strap have accrued over these Ten Years Of Tears. As they pummel their way through early slabs of post-rock lo-fi disillusionment from The Week Never Starts Around Here, a joyous and deliriously energetic Peel Session track name-checking contemporaries Belle & Sebastian, b-sides and some truly breathtaking moments of wig-out supremacy, it is clear that these boys have outgrown the bedrooms that the songs were born into. They now occupy a space much larger and more important than the simple ramblings of two Scottish loners singing about fighting. Nowadays, Arab Strap's songs command attention in a way that few of their peers could hope to manage in a ten-year career.
For all his sour-faced glances across stage and out into the public, Malcolm Middleton's guitar-playing is particularly effortless this evening. He, too, has grown bigger than the songs were ever meant to, now lending sumptuously voiced chords that tie in superbly with the bass and Moffat's inimitable growl. Likewise, Moffat has become something larger than anyone thought (not in girth…), strutting around the stage looking like a manky version of Ian Gillan, deftly cradling the crook of his mic stand, smacking his keyboard and dropping things. These elements, as well as a brutally dynamic backing band, construct a completely different Arab Strap than the one people would have witnessed in some mongrely pub in Falkirk ten years ago.
It's tricky to pick highlights from such a rich back-catalogue, but the obvious one is the pulsing nightmare rave soundscaping of 'The First Big Weekend', which garners the biggest sing-along of the night - to a spoken-word text. As soon as the silence falls after the first verse, five-hundred people stamp their feet in anticipation of their most loved kick-drum moment in indie history. That's power. Just as wonderful are excerpts from last year's The Last Romance LP, with 'Dream Sequence' frightening as much as it invigorates with its simple piano plod. Likewise, the aptly-titled 'There Is No Ending' ushers in some bucolic cheer, the crushing obviousness of its descending scaleic motifs proving more potent than anything Moffat can drawl at us.
An encore is demanded. Arab Strap deliver a tiny acoustic set, gradually shearing themselves of band members until only Middleton and Moffat remain. Then, in a hushed version of 'The Shy Retirer', we finally hear what they were all about to begin with – the sadness. "I want to fall in love tonight," Moffat sweetly coos while his audience are all face-upturned at his magnetism. The duo continue to devastate their public, and leaving them with one of their finest hymns to embitterment and emotional destruction is the only way it could have finished. As the crowds disperse into the streets outside the Scala, a light rain plops on our faces.
Thanks, boys, for a fitting farewell to all our happiness.
Photograph by Daniel Ross
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