Chicago The Empty Bottle

Here is a band unaffected by their own hype...

It reflects on Britney-land when The Delgados, slated to play The Metro, are crammed into the ashtray-sized Empty Bottle at the last minute. Though swamped with critical acclaim that would make Radiohead nervous, The Delgados remain untapped by US audiences, a surprise considering the recent deification of fellow indie-Scots Belle And Sebastian in dorm rooms around the country.

Kicking off with the theatrical ‘Knowing When To Run’, complete with scratchy gramophone strings and scary operatic sample, The Delgados quickly dispel comparisons with their fragile countrymen, crashing into walls of sound that would make Stuart Murdoch hide in his bed for a week. With the string section, flautist, and keyboardist in tow, the too-small stage takes on the form of a slightly demented collage, a baffling assemblage at a bar more accustomed to guitar-bands-that-sound-like-Blur.

The ten-piece work tightly through a set with all the trappings of a jam session. A cheerful Emma Pollock strides confidently into ‘Accused of Stealing’, her honey-coloured vocals filling the room with the warmth of a big hug, while Alun Woodward’s measured nonchalance seems to underscore the dignity in the songs he voices. ‘American Trilogy’ is played with graceful force. The sleeper epic from their David Fridmann-produced third album, its sheer scale recalls the cinematic grandeur of Mercury Rev’s ‘Opus 40′ or Doves’ ‘The Cedar Room’ – not bad for a mild-tempered four-piece not claiming to have reached the pinnacle of postmodern rock. By ‘No Danger’, The Empty Bottle is theirs, and the lights flick on before the audience knows what it was all about – but they get it all the same.

Pollock cheerfully shrugs off the fact they had to play an abridged set (the same short end of the stick saw them slotted into the early show), and seems genuinely pleased with the turnout. Here, perhaps, lies the endearing rationale behind why, as one reviewer puts it, The Delgados are “going to save indie”. In addition to the formative role of their label Chemikal Underground, here is a band unaffected by their own hype – decked in t-shirts, more musical than ever, and still able to appreciate a good crowd whether at London’s Royal Festival Hall, or a hole-in-the-wall Chicago bar.

Chris Seet