Gig/Concert: Idlewild with Sparrow and the Workshop
Venue: Warehouse (formerly Moshulu), Aberdeen, UK
Date: 6 November 2009
In one word: Reminiscent
Now here’s an anomalous thing: a wobbleboard in the drum kit; a high, sweet country vocal; a folky milieu and a self-conscious (literally shoegaze) look. Support act Sparrow and the Workshop come on all shyly, all potentially-twee…and we walk right into the trick. This is folk with machine guns; this is country with a groove, or else surf with a grimace. Singer Jill O’Sullivan is the first jolt, toting a voice something like PJ Harvey meets Dolly Parton; a real fierceness which haunts or pierces equally well, set in a tender lilt. The change in her between quiet, sweet compere and cresting, sweeping “Southern Diva” is entrancing. But perhaps that’s just me.
The blends of sound they produce are quietly impressive, inventive – they’re unafraid of unfashionable things like a’cappella and sudden fermata. “I Will Break You”, a threat in beatific alt-country form, is sweetly introduced with the caveat ‘No, not you guys!’ The alternately soothing, storming “Into the Wild” is topped with a solid minute of bludgeoning rock outro.
Overall, it’s charming and unexpectable; get on it.
It’s a while before the evergreen indie lot Idlewild slouch on. Roddy Woomble is in his Unabomber aspect; and moreover this is suddenly a hairy band, visually indistinguishable from, say, the Biffy Clyro’s of the world.
Their songs are encoded things; stories one way or other, but told with contradiction: simple sophistication, raw detachment. They’re tales told in a dialect of thought that is not quite our own. Which is a funny thing to find oneself saying of power-pop.
The set doesn’t quite catch me at first, working as it does through a Warnings/Promises number and two slightly formulaic new songs before matching the old dramatic urgency with…a song from 2000, “Listen to What You’ve Got”. Still. An inspired, stop-start rendition of “Idea Track” cements a hold on the crowd which lasts throughout.
“Readers and Writers, the new single, is a surprise; the clearest token yet of the band allowing themselves to be Scottish…“
In fact, the setlist is generally heavy on the earlier albums, when they were posthardcore-with-a-heart-of-gold. The audience only really flex when picks from “Hope Is Important” or “100 Broken Windows” are brought out, and I’m actually no dissenter from this.
“Readers and Writers”, the new single, is a surprise; the clearest token yet of the band allowing themselves to be Scottish (something which has up to now been an incidental feature of them). It’s party stuff – there’s almost a silent bagpipe part begged.
Even so, there’s devotion in this room. Every banal utterance in between songs is greeted with a bit of a roar, which given Woomble’s general reticence is a strange occurrence. It’s an interesting thing, the self-consciousness of Woomble. He’s an agitated, diffident man (tonight). Whenever an instrumental break of more than 20 seconds hits, he retreats into the wings of the stage so that he’s not left stranded with nothing to do. Keen to be behind beard, stand, and a pogoing pair of guitarists, perhaps.
The set is topped off with a blend of new pathos and old fire (“American English”, “In Remote Part” and “A Modern Way Of Letting Go” respectively, with “Roseability” a lovely midpoint.)
This is, then, not one band. How many are they? Well. They began with a chaotic strain. They occasionally fall into mawkishness – as in the earlier albums wherever they slow down long enough. They later began to sweep with Editors and cram songs full of hooks like REM. If genre’s your thing then you’ll tread through post-hardcore and grungy indie and power-pop and indie-folk and college rock and on and on into real nonsense. It’s only the close-harmony of Woomble and guitarist Rod Jones that really unites the iterations, though maybe that’s just me.
There’s probably no stopping me going as far as to say that this voice, this urbane harmony from Woomble and Jones was actually an escape route in Modern Scottish identity, an alternative ethos set in timbre. Against the bellowing, bellyed, dead-eyed, ruddy-faced Lion-Rampant-where-a-mind-ought-be nationalist and the mordant, empty quasi-nihilist of Irvine Welsh’s fiction…was this. Cryptic. Critical. Not so much subtle as just unknown. This child saw lights at the end of an interminable plaid tunnel. But that’s almost certainly just me.
In the encore we’re given a new song, the title track off “Post-Electric Blues”. This kind of introduction is a bold thing for any band to do, but somehow it slides, the fervour of the audience acting into it. The second encore is the clearest relapse of all; three songs from “Captain”, their debut mini-album. It’s furious, messy stuff, and I wonder whether the teen Idlewild who scrawled and howled these would even recognise themselves in the “Post-Electric” Idlewild. Which is not to bemoan what might be called the band’s progress. But “Last Night I Missed All The Fireworks”? Played on the 6th November? [This is ironic because this is a day after the fireworks of Guy Fawkes Night, for all our dear readers outside of the UK.] As both guitarists spin and flex and lurch violently with enactment? There’s few gigs I’ve ever seen been ended with such explosive punning.
But perhaps that’s just me.
But perhaps that’s just me.
But perhaps that’s just me.
© Gavin Leech
Too Long Awake
Younger Than America
Listen To What You Got
I’m Happy To Be Here Tonight
Readers & Writers
In Competition For The Worst Time
(The Night Will Bring You) Back To Life
I’m A Message
Dreams Of Nothing
A Modern Way Of Letting Go
In Remote Part
You Held The World In Your Arms
Live In A Hiding Place
Last Night I Missed All The Fireworks