[B]Aidan Moffat[/B] stands before a rapt throng and unveils a new woeful tale: [I]"I do 1471 the minute I get in/And if your number's not there... your stuff stays in the bin"[/I]...
Things happen when [a]Arab Strap[/a] play Nice’n’Sleazy. Almost two years ago, one of Scotland’s greatest indie rock follies was played out here against the backdrop of a particularly intense Strap performance, the dramatis personae numbering the Hon Stuart Braithwaite, one Brendan O’Hare and a flying drum stool.
Mogwai were never the same again. [a]Arab Strap[/a] have lived and learnt too, if only to acknowledge that nothing in the compass of human (mis)behaviour is too strange, painful or just plain embarrassing to make it into one of their songs.
So it is that Aidan Moffat stands before a rapt throng and unveils a new woeful tale: [I]”I do 1471 the minute I get in/And if your number’s not there… your stuff stays in the bin”[/I]. Happily reacquainted with his beard – melting in the fetid basement’s tropical heat, he resembles a sweaty favourite teddy bear – Aidan delivers the punch line like the trouper he’s become, mic cocked and with bonus deprecatory grimace. This deadly little ditty is ‘One Four Seven One’, one of the many new songs of love [a]Arab Strap[/a] have elected to premiere at this unannounced show (amazingly enough, the band’s first gig since the recorded-for-posterity mass sit-down affair at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall last September), and it couldn’t really be any bonnier.
What poised conveyors of drama they’ve become. Formerly worth watching just to see how long it would take before proceedings degenerated into low farce, now [a]Arab Strap[/a] performances are rife with the full gamut of every emotion it’s possible to conceive from such essentially minimal songs. Credit here must go to Malcolm Middleton‘s emergence as the quiet driving force behind the band’s ever improving grasp of dynamics. His clear, unblemished guitar lines feel at once traditional and subversive – he is, let’s be honest, the post-rock Mark Knopfler – and in orchestrating the songs’ huge, heart-snagging swells he gives Aidan‘s parched mumbles something to get stuck into. The closing ‘Autumnal’ is an astonishing case in point, barely alive at the outset, a ringing cacophony come the end, by which point Aidan has disappeared, presumably in search of solace and some clean paper towels.
Particularly in such cramped confines, the Strap are a gripping exercise in comic menace. With Mogwai‘s Barry Burns on keyboards – “he’s from some goth band,” smirks Aidan – and vocalist Adele Bethel occasionally augmenting the dependable David Gow/Gary Miller engine room, the spell is lovingly sustained throughout, and even the bearded wonder himself gets in some hand-trembling organ action during an especially close newcomer called ‘Aries The Ram’. It’s four songs in before Malcolm remembers to distribute the setlists. Hell, these guys have gone all professional.
They can still afford the odd difference of opinion, mind. “Heh, just a wee altercation on the stairs,” Aidan chuckles, as the principals return for encore duties and further glimpses into the next instalment of Strap-life. One is titled ‘Direction Of Strong Man’, and how fitting that seems: behold [a]Arab Strap[/a], the winning losers, proud proof that even underdogs have their day.