If music is the food of love, and let’s say we know this for a fact, then the Red Hot Chilli Pipers are a deep-fried Mars Bar – like the infamous Scottish dish, the Chilli Pipers are a novelty that’s hard to stomach.

At times surreal, constantly laughable, tonight’s two-hour show had to be seen to be disbelieved. From the black fashion kilts to the awkward choreography, the bouts of tartan techno to the choice of songs, no element of tonight’s arduous ordeal did anything to further the cause of Scottish music.

In their matching outfits and with their choreographed moves, which consisted primarily of pointing and swaying, the core pipers often looked like they were auditioning for a part in a Scottish version of the Full Monty.

Safe covers like Clocks, Chasing Cars, Everybody Dance Now and a medley of Rocking All Over The World and Eye Of The Tiger didn’t help matters either. Neither did the difficulty of keeping a strangled cat in tune or their pantomime delivery which, when combined with the music, made tonight feel like the wedding from hell.

In his 25-year 25-album career, Howe Gelb, the man behind Giant Sand, has married a multitude of influences. Country, rock, jazz, blues, punk and psychedelia are just some of the sounds that have made Giant Sand a continuously shifting proposition.

So as you’d expect tonight’s appearance at the ABC, part of this year’s Celtic Connections festival, saw Gelb and his Danish four-piece backing band play an eclectic set that dazzled as much as it disappointed.

The best tracks were those that took the audience on a journey. Hugely evocative lyrics coupled with darkly hypnotic rhythms made numbers like Shiver and Monk’s Mountain truly spell-binding. The latter in particular, punctuated with ragged bursts of distortion as the song reached its gloriously chaotic climax, was quite mesmerising.

However, with such a varied background Gelb’s ability to hold the crowd’s attention at times failed him, especially during the sedate jazz of Time Flies, but it was the increasingly frequent moments when Chris Rhea and Dire Straits sprang to mind that made tonight your archetypal hit and miss performance.

Braving the elements to see The Drums tonight on paper seemed worth a gamble, after all the Brooklyn quartet have scored rave reviews for their eponymous debut album. There’s also the matter of scoring high on the much-coveted but entirely unreliable ones-to-watch lists for 2010.

In reality, for an hour tonight The Drums did little to distinguish themselves from the current rank of ‘now-sounding’ indie-pop bands. Songs followed a predictable pattern, annoying riffs came and went and singer Jonathan Pierce’s nasal whine grew more and more shrill.

The sold-out crowd by and large ate it up, bouncing along to songs like Best Friend, Let’s Go Surfing and Forever And Ever Amen, but then again large sections also cheered wildly when Pierce took off his jacket.

At least visually it was an entertaining affair, albeit unintentionally at times. Aside from the lights which lent some much-needed atmosphere, watching Jacob Graham twirl and waltz with his guitar like a demented ballerina helped raise a much-needed smile on what was overall a night to forget.

Crowds play a huge part when it comes to experiencing live music. Without a passionate, focussed crowd, bands will often just go through the motions while, fuelled by the reaction of pumped-up fans, they tend to rise to the occasion.

Tonight neither the crowd nor the band seemed that up for it, both being strangely lifeless for much of this 23-song set. On the brief moments the five-piece did inject a little energy into proceedings, it didn’t last long.

The instrumental sections on songs like Rebecca And You and Coney Island showed the band’s more interesting rockier psychedelic side and while they may only have played it once before, the introduction of a new untitled song was a definite highlight. Sadly the same couldn’t be said of much of what followed, as with little in the way of presence at times the set plodded along.

That said on the whole it was the total lack of energy and atmosphere, not helped by a poor turn-out, that made tonight a far from dazzling display.

Using an 80s hair metal band’s lifetime allocation of smoke, moody lighting and the odd impressive burst of lasers to not only create atmosphere befitting Fever Ray’s dark, mysterious and distinctly Scandinavian electronic music, but also to obscure a clear view of just what was going on on stage, may have lent a certain mystic to tonight’s proceedings but as the night wore on and the music deviated from the sublime to the plodding, it was a show which overall flattered to deceive.

The lack of an encore wasn’t a disappointment but the evening as a whole most definitely was as, aside from poor sound, once the novelty of the masked band’s theatrics and singer Karin Dreijer Andersson’s elaborate outfit had been revealed – think a black Whizbit costume with giant black-and-white-checked oven gloves for ears – it was a case of waiting for something to happen.

Something dark and magical did happen during the sublime When I Grow Up, Triangle Walks and Seven, but for much of the rest the anticipation that surrounded tonight’s gig never resulted in a fitting pay-off.

ABC1, Glasgow, May 18 * * * * *

Anton Newcombe’s band the Brian Jonestown Massacre may have released a new record this year but tonight there was no room for material from Who Killed Sgt. Pepper. Instead it was the music which so succinctly sound-tracked acclaimed warts-and-all documentary Dig! that made up a trance-inducing psychedelic rock n’ roll set which, bar the odd moment of histrionics from the temperamental frontman, only served to confirm the prolific Newcombe’s undoubted song-writing talents.
Being the leader of a band that at times tonight possessed no fewer than five guitarists, and in total numbered eight requires ‘people skills’, sadly for what has always been an interchangeable line-up Newcombe is unfamiliar with the phrase, as demonstrated tonight when the a faulty snare drum caused the petulant singer to lead his band off-stage.
Still with songs like Servo, When Jokers Attack, Anenome and truly hypnotic show closer Swallowtail at your disposal, it’s easy to forgive the ego behind the music – especially after a show like this.

Ash @ ABC1 27-04-10

May 6, 2010

ABC1, Glasgow, April 27 * *

The talk in the run up to Ash’s latest tour was of the trio’s newest ‘member’, Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack. However his contributions tonight – rhythm guitar, a few synth-generated electro undertones, most notably on Neon, and an ability to stand still looking vapid – added little dimensional to the music while his presence failed to invigorate proceedings with some much-needed energy.
With the odd exception, the excitement on hearing songs like Goldfinger, Shining Light, Oh Yeah and Girl From Mars never really spread beyond the pocket of pogo-ing diehards front and centre.
With frontman Tim Wheeler restricting his chat to the odd platitude, the music was left to do the talking but what it said was largely forgettable.
Coming thick and fast, and with the band’s tired and tested punk-infused indie pop formula all too blatant, even the hits lost their sheen, their potency diminished and diluted by a swathe of filler.
After 24 songs over two gruelling hours what had been a largely soulless display devoid of abiding memories was over. At least on their next visit to Scotland and TITP they’ll only have half-an-hour.

ABC1, Glasgow, April 2 * * * * *

If ever a band deserved wider recognition it’s The Twilight Sad. One of the hardest-working bands currently doing the rounds, tonight they played their biggest headlining show to date to a packed ABC.
Adding to the sense of occasion was the use of quadrophonic sound. Something of an audacious and costly move by the trio, rounded out to a five-piece live, it proved an inspired decision and contributed to making this a contender for gig of the year.
With sound being manipulated between the standard PA and two towering speaker stacks at the rear of the room, songs like Walking For Two Hours, That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy and I Became A Prostitute engulfed the crowd in a hypnotic cocoon of sound.
It was most effective on I’m Taking The Train Home, Andy MacFarlane’s torrents of distortion flooding the room while set closer Cold Days From The Birdhouse rounded off a display that had fans searching for superlatives capable of summing up what was a unique and mesmerising experience.

Europe @ ABC1 28-02-10

March 5, 2010

ABC1, Glasgow, February 28 * * *

It’s only the godfathers of 80s hair-metal, Bon Jovi, who can still fill stadiums and shift albums. They’re certainly the only ones who sell canine fashion under the cunning guise Bone Jovi.
Fellow spandex survivors Europe’s success was more short-lived and coincided with the loss of co-founder John Norum – the synth-route to commercial success didn’t sit well with the lead guitarist and maybe still doesn’t, as tonight he cut a forlorn and at times disinterested figure.
If he had opted to join the other four in rocking out he’d still have been overshadowed by singer Joey Tempest. The 46-year old was the star of the show and on numerous occasions proved more entertaining than the music which drove his performance.
Shadow boxing around the stage, windmilling his white mic-stand and shaking hands with his followers, Tempest energetically worked the crowd like it was 1986 all over again, the year tonight’s triumphant encore, The Final Countdown, cemented the band’s place in hard rock history.

Midlake @ ABC1 15-02-10

February 19, 2010

ABC1, Glasgow, February 15 * * * *

No matter how good they may sound in a studio, not all bands thrive on stage. Some seem lost, insular and awkward – The Shins spring instantly to mind. On past visits to Glasgow that was the certainly the case when it came to Midlake. Great songs, forgettable performance.
Tonight however the Texans went some way to repairing their live image with an altogether more memorable display. That’s not to say it was a stunning set, it wasn’t, but thanks to some extended jams and the obvious sincerity of guitarist/singer Eric Pulido, it was a far more pleasing affair than their last ABC1 appearance..
Musically a certain repetition did pervade some of the tracks lifted from latest album The Courage Of Others but there was still much to enjoy with Rulers, Ruling All Things, Bring Down and Core Of Nature proving worthy additions to the Midlake catalogue while Roscoe and Head Home inevitably provoked the most vocal reactions from the crowd.