London Islington Union Chapel

Largely, to be here is to admit a fondness, even a compulsion, for enervated misery...

Why the hell are we still here? Everyone should have tired of this horrible voyeurism long ago, curiosity waning and prurience fading as the same relentless stories were told again and again and again. [a]Arab Strap[/a] know, though. They know how to stick the knife in, how their girls have been unfaithful, how their friends will let them down. Most of all, they know what they probably always suspected to be true, even before they sent these weary songs out to earn their living onstage and on disc. That masochism is everywhere.

For there’s little that’s pleasurable about[a]Arab Strap[/a] live – at least, pleasure in the smile-feel-better-about-it-all kind of way, rather than the drink-’til-oblivion-then-death method. There’s the shudder of Malcolm Middleton‘s guitar, shifting from quiet frown to full-blown rage in one unnerving second. The bed-bound shuffle of the cymbals. The loose melodic ease of ‘Afterwards’, sweetly sighed by Cora Bissett, perhaps, or the happy resolution of ‘New Birds’. But largely, to be here is to admit a fondness, even a compulsion, for enervated misery. To admit you want to hear this tumbled slur of words, this alcohol-fumed mutter, that watching Aidan Moffat swig from a bottle of red wine and shamble off mid-set for a piss (laughter from an audience so desperate for blue skies they’ll settle for humorous urination) somehow constitutes entertainment, edification.

There’s no lesson or courage to be taken from the deceptively blithe ‘Pyjamas’ or the spread-eagled ‘The Drinking Eye’ (both from new album ‘Elephant Shoe’), though, just a clammy fascination. They’re in their element, of course, and ignoring the textbook wisdom, it’s not air and water they need to survive, but gloom, guilt, depression. And (throw back head, deep breath) they will survive. Yet the more you watch them paddle about in this despondency, the more you resent them and their pallbearer’s waltzes, the method-acted tensions and endless longueurs. We deserve better. We’re tired. Aidan pretends to hit Cora and they laugh. Go. Walk out the door. Don’t turn around now. You’re not welcome any more.

Until next time.

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