The War Against Intelligence

John Williamson's web stuff


September 2007

King Creosote, Emma Pollock

King Creosote, Emma Pollock
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Though their paths to becoming solo artists differ, both Emma Pollock and Kenny Anderson share a mild discomfort with the responsibilities and attention that goes with being the focus of attention.

While Anderson has his King Creosote alter-ego to hide behind, Pollock is more exposed in such a support slot. Her set is short and consists of the most upbeat songs from her ‘Watch The Fireworks’ album, with Jamie Savage’s piano parts often higher in the mix than Pollock’s perfect voice.

Though the songs draw on a more limited palette than her former band, The Delgados, when the outcome is concise pop songs like ‘Paper and Glue’ and ‘The Acid Test’ it would be improper to complain.

King Creosote’s lengthy history as a live performer makes for an engaging spectacle, and after years of false starts, it appears that he is growing into the idea of being an almost reliable live act.

Like Pollock, there is no problem with his voice which is consistently yearning and soulful, nor the best of his songs, which in recent years he has managed to hone down the quantity into albums as rounded as ‘K.C. Rules O.K.’ and the most recent, ‘Bombshell.’

Tracks from these dominate, as he flits between acoustic guitar and accordion, before unleashing a recently purchased electric guitar for ‘There’s None of That’ and ‘Now Drop Your Bombshell.’ Recent single, ‘You’ve No Clue Do You?’ is the best example of the growth of his songwriting, veering in almost New Order like direction.

Though the chaotic, overwrought encore of The Aliens’ ‘The Happy Song’ harks back to shambolic outings of the past, this show is tangible evidence of Anderson’s work finally receiving the recognition it deserves, but often seemed unlikely to achieve. For both acts, this show seems like a giant leap forward.



Oran Mor, Glasgow

Like her most obvious contemporary, Chan Marshall, Leslie Feist finds herself on a precipice: caught at the top of one cliff, that of independent cool and critical acclaim, while looking to find a foothold on another – that of mainstream success.

This year’s album, ‘The Reminder’ has, with it bigger shows, Letterman appearances and iPod adverts, edged her onto the foothills of the latter, but finds her hovering uncomfortably, with the danger of falling between the two.

Fortunately, this show is intimate enough to provide a sharp reminder of the amazing voice that has elevated her to this point, yet seated venues with more sensitive acoustics may offer a better environ for the varied range of songs and the laudably understated arrangements employed. Here, a partially restless crowd coupled with low volume and a set list that frustrates any momentum, makes for an absorbing rather than amazing show.

It also serves to highlight her strengths and weaknesses. A magnificent interpreter of other writer’s songs, Ron Sexsmith’s ‘Secret Heart’ is an obvious highlight, as is the appropriation and approximation of Nina Simone on ‘Sealion.’ By comparison, her own songs, mostly co-written, tend to vary substantially in quality.

Recent singles, ‘1234’ and ‘My Moon, My Man’ are strident and memorable, and the co-write with Sexsmith, ‘Brandy Alexander’ may be her best work to date. Disappointingly, another single, ‘Mushaboom’ is simultaneously rumbustious, funny and messy, with forgotten words and a guest vocalist from the audience.

Like much of the performance, it is endearing and enjoyable, but also frustrating. With her often dexterous, collaborative approach, the end performance seems somewhat less than the sum of its parts, and mildly underwhelming.

Connect Festival / Saturday

Inverary Castle, Iverary

With a sprawling site in the grounds of an eighteenth century castle, Connect falls at the larger end of the boutique festival market that has grown exponentially in recent years.

Fortunately, this means that in spite of the many logistic challenges – of which the mud and the treck from the car park that would challenge even the keenest extreme sports enthusiasts – the festival is a triumph of considered musical choices rather than the rabble rousing populism of the major U.K. festivals.

Though it does not always work, there are a number of striking performances. Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes has a voice that can fill the sparsely populated arena she engaged mid-afternoon and Vasthi Bunyan deserves some sort of credit for the quietest, most introverted performance in the biggest space ever. Even so, ‘Window over the Bay’ seems entirely befitting of the setting.

The Only Ones provide a fascinating glimpse of what The Libertines’ reunion in 2030 may sound and look like -and it is considerably better than original fans may have feared. Teenage Fanclub and Rilo Kiley offer the best meldoic pop tunes of the day, but glorious harmonies, whether of the Bellshill or Californian variety seem strangely out of synch with the greyness of the surroundings.

It is for the same reason that Mogwai’s set works spectacularly. With nightfall descending and the rainclouds producing a mist against the backdrop to the stage, the sense of dark foreboding that permeates the occasional prettiness of their tunes seems perfectly in tune with the enviornment.

It also has an edge over Primal Scream’s ongoing attempts to be all things to all people. Nevertheless, during crowd-pleasers ‘Rocks,’ ‘Swastika Eyes’ and ‘Country Girl,’ Bobby Gillespie captures another important aspect of Connect’s appeal: people in their forties pretending to be twenty-something, and for the most part, getting away with it.

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