Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Calvin Johnson & Muscles of Joy, Hyndland Community Hall, Glasgow, 3rd August

An unplanned early morning train ride home. Too early. I keep expecting to catch the 11 o’clock bus back, which sometimes happens, but more often the band are still on at decision time, round about half ten, and the bus almost never wins. Certainly it stood no chance against Calvin Johnson, while he had songs left to sing. With his pink shirt, his eyes that looked round and his gesticulations which had their campness sonic boomed out of them by a voice as low as blood and smooth as sleep, unamplified except by the acoustics of the church hall. Though actually, leaving would have been inconspicuous given the number of people who disappeared to the toilet after every song and returned at the start of the next (‘Can’t you hold on?’ I wondered. ‘Has Calvin found your resonant frequency?’) He even suggested pausing the set for a comfort break but thought better of it, moving on to musings about a Belfast open-topped tour bus and its guide’s well rehearsed tales of civic woe, and this sentence if I remember: ‘So you’ve got this island called Ireland, and this place which is part of the island of Ireland but not the country of Ireland – too complicated,’ between songs which slipped sweetly by, mostly accompanied by finger pickin’ and one a capella about going to the cinema on your own and looking around to see the couples doing what they are doing, laden with a tension that only pretended to reprove. The expressions and gyrations, the looking rounds and the strokings of his own thighs that he managed to get into that song! I feel bad for not remembering more about the less theatrical songs in the set, but at time they slipped down easy, and anyway it was the atmosphere that mattered. Afterwards I asked Stephen Pastel if he remembered selling me – many years after it came out – the first Beat Happening album in the record section of John Smith’s, but it seems it wasn’t such a pivotal moment in his life as it was in mine (‘Maybe if you’d bought it AND there had been a bolt of lightning…’). Then I bought some compilation tapes from Calvin at his table of K stuff: ‘Everybody Hustle’, ‘West Coast Country’, ‘Natty Chariot’ and ‘Baby Be Mine’. I don’t doubt that he will cherish the memory.

Muscles of Joy put in a great support slot. More polished than when I last saw them (at Le Weekend 2009), they dealt this time in a more controlled and more effective chaos, with a twin emphasis on rhythm and harmony, the former delivered by mini marching machine and – you know those small paper bangers you can get from joke shops? Katy (I think) threw those at the floor every so often, making a gunpowder bang where a snare hit might otherwise have gone. Harmonies came from the whole band, though more for texture than melody. Chris, fresh from capturing the most surprising politician / indie pop juxtaposition since, um, Monday, remained unimpressed, but pointed out that we do disagree about The Ex. He also spotted a reference to ‘Death Valley 69’ that passed me by. ‘This next one’s a bit bananas’ vied with Calvin’s ‘sitting down ain’t rock ’n’ roll’ patter for best song intro of the evening. Set closer ‘Water Break Its Neck’, with its crisp maracas and insistent high pitched refrain (‘The way I am made’) was my favourite song of theirs. It may have been the only song they repeated from the Le Weekend gig, which was intended as music to accompany Norman McLaren’s animations. Asking around a bit before they played this time, I got the impression that McLaren isn’t as well known as he might be, may I direct you again to the Click Opera post about him by way of introduction. He is fab.

Calvin’s mixtapes – all 28 of ’em! – are available here.


Calvin said...

Such a good show! Long live Calvin Johnsons :)

Chris said...

Yeah, it was great. Are you one?

Wilde said...

Love Norman McLaren's work. Got acquainted with it while in Paris very late one night--laughed and laughed. I was pretty tired. Ordered a set of his Short Films as a gift when I returned home.

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