A gig preview of sorts:
Half an hour before doors open and 50 minutes before the support act takes to the stage, I sit in Old Blackfriars. A strangely religious pub – a Guinness will do. The outside is brisk and bitter. Only one person will brave the outside with me to see Arab Strap. Joel Meldrum! He will be joining us an hour late. Blast you ScotRail!
I slotted myself next to the sound desk on arrival to The Lemon Tree, excited to find out there was a support act. He went by Last Boy, and he played a whole host of different songs. He moved almost seamlessly between tracks which verged on bothy ballads, to songs which hang in the air of harbour pubs, to finger picked reflections of childhood. My favourite moment of his set came during the song Jellyfish. Named after an old childhood game he played, he sang the words “I’m not dying, it’s the last thing I’ll do”. A true moment of realism, preparing the crowd for Arab Strap. Rounding his set off with a Frightened Rabbit cover, Last Boy was a great way to start the night.
I went in to this gig relatively blind in all honesty. I’d only heard a few of the songs from Philophobia(meaning a fear of love), and only found out on the day that the band would be playing the album in its entirety. Upon hearing the opening lines of the first song, Packs of Three, I quickly realised what we were in store for. “It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen/But you’ve no idea where that cock has been.” This was to be a night of real life, of sex, drug abuse and relatable Scottish youth.
The band played as their original duo of Aidan Moffat (vocals) and Malcolm Middleton (guitar), accompanied by drum machines and backing tracks, whilst swapping horn sections for melodica. This could easily degrade the live sound for many bands, but not Arab Strap. They seemed to thrive in this environment, with Moffat speaking in his broad Glaswegian accent whilst Middleton shoegazed his way through intricate guitar lines seemingly effortlessly.
At one point I had to go outside for a breath of fresh air. Not because I didn’t enjoy the music, but because the severity of the lyrics and the sincerity in which they were spoken was very emotional and almost overwhelming at points. When I returned, the band were just starting to play Piglet – my favourite song from the album. A dark brooding song about infidelity, the mood of the room hadn’t changed. One thing to note is that Aidan Moffat is simply hilarious, and it was his dialogue in between songs which helped ensure no one was too bummed out by the end of the night.
My one problem with the gig was that some of the crowd were clearly not expecting how blunt and brutal the lyrics would be. When words like “shag” or “cock” were said, they were met with applause and huge laughter in certain parts of the room. Not a problem in itself, it became one during soft, quiet moments like on the previously mentioned Piglet. This can’t be seen as the bands fault, but it did detract from these softer moments of the set.
Rounding the gig off with a magnificent encore of songs new and old, Arab Strap were fantastic. They sounded almost identical to the record, and played their own brand of post rock flawlessly. Highly recommended.