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The War Against Intelligence

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October 2004

Ron Sexsmith

The Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow.

It is hard not to feel a little for Ron Sexmith and the fellow travellers on what has been a world tour that has lasted for most of 2004. When he remarks self-depreciatingly “this is a new venue for us, and that always makes me feel like we are making a little progress,” it only highlights the painfully slow speed at which Sexsmith’s talents have edged towards the mainstream.

He has been making albums since 1991, recently releasing his sixth, ‘Retriever’ to usual chorus of press and peer approval and moderate sales. For many years, his visits to Scotland have comprised a sold out show at King Tut’s, an exercise in preaching to the converted.

Though the venue is smarter and politely in keeping with the music, it is also a slightly sterile, if comfortable environment for a Sexsmith show. There is little to watch but much to admire in the shape of an ever-expanding songbook of near classic compositions.

The twenty-five songs represent a fair cross-section of his work, and the execution is perfect. Only on ‘From Now On,’ which closes the set, is there any sense of the musicians indulging themselves.

It is hard to apply a genre label to his work. ‘Hard Bargain’ has a gentle country flavour, ‘Whatever It Takes’ is a soft-rock combination of The Beatles and Burt Bacharach and on ‘In A Flash’ drummer, Don Kerr beautifully accompanies him on cello.

Many of the others fit comfortably in a pop writing tradition that spans Elvis Costello to Alex Chilton, via Aimee Mann. In essence, these are restrained and pretty songs, expertly performed, and ‘Galbraith Street’ and ‘Former Glory’ he has at least two that surpass any of his peers.

The Delgados

Barrowland, Glasgow.

For ten years and over the course of five albums, few outside the world inhabited by listeners of the John Peel Show have recognised the development of The Delgados into the most consistently imaginative pop band working in Scotland.

Perhaps it is their non-metropolitan location, their infrequent touring and their general lack of engagement with the record industry sales process which have served to limit rather than expand their audience, but more probably their inherent brilliance is too awkward and unassuming for a wider audience.

This is compounded by the fact that many others, inspired or assisted by their example, have gone on to wider recognition. The excellently raucous support, Sons and Daughters, look certain to follow the same path.

Headlining a show of this size is a moral victory for the band, but the years of effort can easily be overlooked on such occasions. The outcome is a sense of vindication rather than the triumphalism of Travis’ hometown homecoming show earlier in the week.

Nevertheless, there is much to celebrate not least the transition of The Delgados from prototype indie guitar band to a loose, lush sounding ensemble that combines early seventies folk melodies with the pop hooks of ELO and the noisier tendencies of the Spacemen 3 and early Pavement.

Their newest album, ‘Universal Audio,’ steps back a little from the ambition of its predecessors, but its best songs – ‘I Fought The Angels,’ ‘Is This What I Came For,’ ‘Sink or Swim’ and ‘Everybody Come Down’ are the focus of this show and a measure of their congruity.

With the older, ‘Pull For The Wires From The Wall’ and ‘The Arcane Model’ also present, there is not a weak song among the sixteen. That’s a real triumph.

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Razorlight
Barrowland, Glasgow.

Razorlight’s debut album, Up All Night, sold its 300 000th copy a few days before they embarked on this, their biggest headline tour to date. This is their moment: the press, MTV2 and their young audience love the half-Swedish, half-English outfit.

It is, however, a lopsided phenomenon: the other band members seem like mere accessories to the precocious and charismatic Cockney-isms of singer, Johnny Borrell, who appears drunk on the adulation.

Clambering on top of the amps, he meanders from the script of the tightly constructed songs, and embraces more rock’n’roll clichés in the space of the first half hour than many of his contemporaries manage in a lifetime.

With his t-shirt discarded after six songs, the sweat is a reflection of the sheer energy of the show, where the songs are performed at breakneck pace. Yet, tampering with the songs is what makes this a mildly disappointing experience. Gone is the tightness of their shows earlier this year, in its place a confidence and bravado that the quality of the renditions does not fully warrant.

The album provides twelve of the fourteen songs. “Golden Touch,” Rip It Up” and “Vice” are the pick, revising the twin-guitar approach of Television and condensing it into excellent, radio-friendly pop tunes.

Less convincing is the London-centric pub rock of “Leave Me Alone,” and the rambling non-album track, “Keep The Right Profile” does little to inspire confidence in the second album.

A low-rent and literal slideshow only embodies the problems Razorlight are encountering in the transition from small venues to more sizeable arenas – while they have some of the qualities required, real presence and substance is proving somewhat elusive.

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