Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Space Lady, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 5th April

There was a singalong during Saturday night’s performance by The Space Lady, which she introduced as a song by The Space Manager, the man standing at the entrance, who had encouraged us all in his friendly American way to come closer at the beginning of the show. She mentioned that they had been together for six years, which made me wonder about the husband she talks about in the Space Lady’s Greatest Hits CD booklet, who wrote songs for her in the ’70s and ’80s. It had a modern hymn type tune (when I say ‘modern’ I’m thinking back thirty years to primary school), and words about everybody being light looking for a place to shine, and love looking for a place to be. It was catchy — I can still remember it, no recording equipment involved — but the sentiment was too generalised for me. She then answered the question she had left hanging by introducing the next song, ‘Humdinger’, as being by Joel Dunsany, her late husband of thirty years, and the father of her children. The specifics crowded in, in a gently humorous, self-referential way:
Street singer, that’s a rock ’n’ roll show
Hot speakers, woofers and tweeters
Electric reverb stereo sci fi space echo
Keyboard Cadillac with a Vox Jaguar
Atomic Wurlitzer flash
A souped-up Casio
No disrespect to The Space Manager, but if you ask me, that’s love.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains – Stereo, Glasgow, 29th March

Is it really four and a half years since Frànçois put in this incredible performance in a tiny student theatre in St Andrews? Apparently it is, and I’ve continued to be as hard to please by his subsequent records as that review shows I was by the earlier, lo fi ones. Probably it’s a compliment, not wanting him to be spoiled, because he has been so special. Still is so special. But I want him to prove it, again and again. The move from Fence to Domino has brought with it a bigger sound, and E Volo Love was a step outside the Tindersticks-ish beauty of Plaine Inondable to something less sombre, more in love with life, and the new Piano Ombre… It’s too early, I can’t tell. My first impression was that the new version of ‘The Way to the Forest’ is overdone compared to the one on the excellent Brother EP, which must be the pernicious influence of being on a label people have heard of, right? I do think that the new record gives itself less space to breathe, sonically, than Plaine Inondable: it is more of a producer’s construction than a record of the band’s live sound, as the earlier record gave the impression of being. But like The Notwist, whose amazing Mono show the other week I managed not to write about here, the Atlas Mountains’ live sound is now so expansive that a straightforward recording would almost certainly fail to capture it adequately. Both bands stretched out their songs in exhilarating and imaginative ways, tailored to a live audience.

Support band Barbarossa had a singer whose voice S. identified as the one from the theme song to The Bridge, or very close to it. Very high, unashamedly emotive. Then she got more generous, suggesting Arthur Russell. I countered with Chris Martin, and she backtracked and said Terence Trent D’Arby. It’s not the kind of singing I ususally get along with, but they were good, considering. A two piece: the singer behind a small bank of synths and gadgets, and a drummer who verged on drum solos in places, which was actually a good counterpoint to the vocalising. On one song his timing seemed to go all to pot, so much that it may have been deliberate. The singer modestly suggested that they were but the putting-on-make-up stage of Saturday night, compared to the main event of going out clubbing. Then, concerned that he might appear too cool, he clarified that it was OK if people ‘do it with your parents too’, his syntax getting the better of him. ‘I’m sure he means well’, said S.

‘Showtime,’ said Frànçois, somewhat more directly, when he hit the stage. The Atlas Mountains numbered between four and five for this show: two drummers, sometimes three, including the fabulous Amaury Ranger, still with his water drum and bongos, still playing like the world will stop turning and all its plates will crash to the floor if he stops gyrating as wildly as possible. I was wondering how they would adapt to the confines of a raised stage, especially one crammed with so much kit. The colourful fabric-covered mic and guitar leads were encouragingly long, though, and within seconds they were into a synchronised dance routine, jumping 180° and back again, and all doubt was gone. Like a proper pop band, except, in all my years of going to see live pop music, I’ve never seen that (maybe the Pet Shop Boys’ dancers did it in 1989, but I can’t really remember. Jens Lekman did something similar once, when he got his band to be aeroplanes for a bit). It could’ve looked silly – well, it did look silly – but it was as much a declaration of faith in Pop as sliding on his knees into fairy lights was in 2009. This stuff matters. It works because Frànçois is such an energetic performer, as animated as Amaury but more elegant, constantly in motion, never on one part of the stage for long, jumping when he can fit it in. The constructed drum attack of Piano Ombre found its live counterpart in an irresistable onslaught which was impossible not to dance to, to smile to. I’m reminded of Orson Welles’ idea that the cinema screen is a dead thing, so you have to go all out to grab your audience at the beginning of a film. A CD, too, is a dead thing, relying on technique and trickery to make a bid for your attention. A live performance doesn’t have that problem, and songs from a record which was going to take some time to absorb came into colour there and then, it was wonderful.

Frànçois declared perilously early that they were on to their last song, ‘because it’s Saturday night’, but it must have been a joke against club venues, because they carried on for ages, playing most if not all of Piano Ombre, and encoring (without leaving the stage) with ‘Les Plus Beaux’ and ‘Be Water’, both stretched well beyond their recorded forms, the latter unrecognisable for three or four minutes at least, and featuring some... I don’t know, Turkish-style singing, possibly? in the intro, before it morphed into a song which used to be so light on its feet, but made for a great, epic set closer. Stereo was packed, but people danced as best they could, it was so much fun. S. looked at me at the end saying, ‘One of the best ever’. And it was.

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