Monday, February 11, 2008

American Music Club at Oran Mor, Glasgow, 8th February

The actual support band were shite. Not to go around slagging support bands unnecessarily (I've even forgotten their name), but they were a pretty serious bunch, with a frontwoman who looked rather too pleased with her amalgam of said seriousness with the wearing of a teensy red miniskirt. And whose patter included such gems as 'The M74 was really busy on the way here' and 'I hope you never feel as bad as I did when I wrote this song.' Cue dirge, calculated to take listeners fairly close to the experience. They said they were from Berlin, but they must be from the Lou Reed quarter, rather than the Bowie / Momus one. The band we stumbled on after the gig, though, on for free at Stereo, were fucking brilliant. From outside you could hear an over-loud rock thumping which didn't sound too inviting, but once in the presence of The Gummy Stumps and the full dumb glory of a band completely intent on being the chorus of The Fall's 'R.O.D.' again and again, it was impossible not to be won over. The singer turned in, facing the drummer, clasping his mic, reading his lyrics from a stand - all from the same sheet of paper, I didn't even see him turn it over. Reading, and then barking the lyrics, over the rumblings and rollings. Chris thought more The Jesus Lizard than The Fall, but I wouldn't know about that sort of thing. For his pictures go here (or here for the AMC ones).

The high point of Mark Eitzel's 2005 solo record Candy Ass was 'The Sleeping Beauty', a delicate song about fragility, sung from the point of view of a man driving away from the woman he loves, 'over the dead leaves', watching her wave, wondering if he'll see her again. Knowing he won't. He sees her frailty in her hands as she waves, describing them variously as 'beautiful', 'frozen', 'trembling' and 'paper burning in the sun'. They are already at one remove, seen in the rear view mirror, then disappear completely as he turns the corner. The past tense a little later in the song reveals that his foreboding has already been borne out:

No-one could love the way you loved
With the blind purity of a honey bee
But now that sweetness is just a mistake I grieve
It poisons my life
Becomes a prison I never want to leave
Kathleen is dead. In recent years, in amongst the experiments with electronics and lesser subject matter, Eitzel's best songs have wanted to say no more or less than this. From The Invisible Man's 'Anything' ('I'd give anything to be where you are right now') to 'Another Morning' from Love Songs for Patriots, he's been by turns tender and angry, and always inconsolable. This is roughly how he seemed to feel about her when she was alive too, which is why 'Kathleen' towers so amongst his songs ('You're living on borrowed time / You can't do nothing right / And you can't commit a crime' - all that's changed is the tense) Once in an interview he was asked why he'd stopped naming songs after women. 'Well, Jenny liked "Jenny",' he responded, 'but Kathleen was pretty pissed off about "Kathleen".'

'The Sleeping Beauty' now has a new home on American Music Club's latest, The Golden Age. They played it on Friday at Oran Mor, where it was the high point of the set, just as it is the high point of both Candy Ass and The Golden Age (where it has found a better setting, and picked up a wonderfully frail, halting rhythm). No-one but Mark Eitzel can keep this deep deep tenderness alive in song, balanced always by a clear understanding of the personal failings of the people involved (Kathleen's hands 'could not hold on / To any heart that's warm / To any lie that's cold'; Mark is 'selfish with my time / Like it was something I could keep'), but with not a hint of bitterness about them. Failings are failings. Love is love. There's nothing much you can do about either. On the one hand this is fatalistic; on the other it captures something that all the other love songs in the world couldn't put back together again.

They played other songs too, of course. 'Hello Amsterdam' and 'Wish the World Away' had Vudi jumping around as if he were in a rock band or something. I think it was introducing the latter that Eitzel decided that he was fronting an 'American Music Club tribute act,' that the real Eitzel was off supping champagne in his LA mansion, that he'd probably sue them for playing all his hits, but they were going to anyway. Actually he had a point - AMC 2008 is Mark, Vudi and a new rhythm section. Danny Pearson and Tim Mooney have been jettisoned, at least for the moment, and their finesse is much missed. If Love Songs for Patriots is this decade's Everclear (I'm still in awe of that comeback LP), The Golden Age is more like the simpler, less diverse San Francisco. It holds together better than the earlier record, but lacks the scope of its immediate predecessor. Or so it seems after a week. AMC albums have a habit of catching you unexpectedly six months in, so who knows?

The new songs which work best live are 'All My Love', with its 'Fearless'-esque calm (afterwards Mark disclaims furiously: 'That's a song about something I know nothing about'), and the convivial 'All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco', for which he demands that a contingent of the (mostly male and ageing) audience get up on stage and take their tops off. 'You're not going to, are you?' he asks, when nobody does. 'We're out of shape,' someone yells back. I get the feeling that it was this moment he had in mind singing 'Jesus' Hands' as an encore: 'Well I'd like to hang out / But I can tell that you're not a drinking crowd.' And he gave us one of his very hard stares.

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