Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Crayon Fields, The Catalysts and The Motifs, The Twisted Wheel, Glasgow, 23rd April

The second of Brogues’ ‘Foolin’ Around’ nights, this time with an Australian flavour. The Motifs were the band I’d been looking forward to most, on the basis of their lovely Away album, which is full of the tiniest, warmest songs. They are so insular I couldn’t imagine them in a live context at all: outside the bedroom, they sound like they would just blow away. But downstairs at The Twisted Wheel it was dimly lit and intimate, they fitted in well. Apologies for the national stereotyping, but their singer was the second least brash Australian performer I have ever seen, clutching at an outsize guitar, her gaze fixed above our heads. It might have been ‘thanks’ she was saying after the songs, but it was hard to be certain. Two members of The Crayon Fields backed her up on drums, keyboards and harmonies. If I’m making this sound unbearably precious, it wasn’t: Motifs songs somehow avoid that, they just get on with the job. They all sound the same – like the Marine Girls heard from the womb, maybe – and they accumulate into something pretty and comforting. Pyrotechnics were not to be expected, even the set list was written in small writing. They reproduced the sound of the record, harmonies in tact, and that was enough.

The Catalysts (not Australian) were a nice surprise. I knew nothing about them, but their first song, ‘The Girl From New York’, was such a pop rush. Brogues made the link to Teenage Fanclub’s A Catholic Education, and that was about right – big slabs of two / three chord chiming underpinned by a charm as wide as the sky. Their wry comments were good too, the singer introduced one song as ‘not “Femme Fatale”, honest’ (it was pretty similar), and mentioned that their output has amounted to only a few singles ‘over the course of 30 years’, almost daring us to have a problem with that. I don’t, and shall be tracking them down immediately.

The second to last song on The Crayon Fields’ Animal Bells album is called ‘Midnight’, and it’s a peach. All of the elements which benignly inhabit the previous ten songs – Spector echo bass, decorative tremolo guitar, a xylophone played as though it was a steel drum – find themselves with a knockout tune around which to converge, and all is pop heaven for the duration. The Summer Hymns / Beach Boys-on-‘Deirdre’ singing comes into its own too, moving from ineffectual to delicious the moment it finds the right notes. On the evidence of the live show it is the lack of bite to the recorded drums which lets the other songs down. It’s not that they rocked out at all (the singer was the least brash Australian performer I have ever seen, mumbling his intros, never looking up), but the balance was better: the drums nailed down the tunes, rather than pattering away as though they’d been pasted on afterwards. Think of the stop / start drums on ‘God Only Knows’. The way The Crayon Fields use drums is similar: they are texture and punctuation, and their songs worked an awful lot better when they could be heard properly. Set closer ‘Could It Be So Strange?’ was especially fine, it passed the acid test of getting a weary S. to dance.

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