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Monday, November 26, 2012

Live Review: Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat, Twa Tams, Perth, 23/11/2012

One of the first things many people notice about me is that I'm not at all proud of my Geordie origins. The region itself is lovely, but I honestly can't contain my contempt for the people within it - the delusional boneheaded majority who're quite rightly the butt of the nation's unsavoury jokes. Oh, what I'd give to be Scottish. Things are just better north of the border. People are friendlier. They drink better, swear better, have better accents, grow better beards, and perhaps most importantly they're treated to what I personally consider the finest music scene this flawed, divided island has to offer. It was with little hesitation, then, that I travelled up to Perth to be right in the midst of it, immersing myself in the esteemed company of RM Hubbert, Bill Wells and the one and only Aidan Moffat on a night which proved more than worth the travel expense.

Amazing though it was, the first thing which must be noted about this gig is the peculiar and often challenging set of circumstances it presented the musicians on stage. Located at the rather splendid Twa Tams, this was nevertheless a free show on a Friday night, meaning much of it was set against a wall of innocent chatter from the pub's oblivious regulars. This wasn't too much of an issue for collaborative duo Wells and Moffat, but had a profound effect on the supporting RM Hubbert, whose sparse solo performances tend to rely on the blissful allure of silence. Seemingly undaunted, the Glaswegian decided against countering his predicament, and instead settled into a continuous instrumental consisting of songs from his two LPs, new material (due around May) and a bout of pure improvisation. Truly inspiring stuff, this was the sound of a man at one with his guitar, playing for himself and transforming a difficult situation into a complete masterclass.

Most headliners would have struggled in such distinguished wake, but tonight's bill-toppers ensured there was never any danger of a comedown. Eight years in the making, last year's Everything's Getting Older found multi-instrumentalist Wells and one-time Arab Strap (amongst others) vocalist Moffat working in absolute tandem. Striking a perfect balance between the former's impeccable arrangements and the latter's infamous lyrical nous, it was a record which deservedly won them the inaugural Scottish Album Of The Year gong, and arguably ranks as the high-point in each of their magnificent careers.

Backed only with piano, percussion and the trumpet of touring member Robert Henderson, its songs here found themselves stripped to bare bone - a process which rubbed off surprisingly well given they're already stark compositions. One or two were unaffected, but those which were revealed both structural and elementary strengths few in the audience could have imagined. "Let's Stop Here" and "The Copper Top" for instance were items of rare, unequivocal beauty, providing Moffat's half-spoken, half-sung and heavily-accented delivery with a minimal key support which only magnified its warm yet harrowing tone. "Glasgow Jubilee" on the other hand excelled even without its sampled backing; Wells and Henderson crafting an adept substitute while their companion embarked on his blunt but elegant sexualised masterpiece. The real highlight, however, was "Man Of The Cloth," a track which appears on the comparatively low-profile Cruel Summer EP which managed to be surreal, unsettling and hilarious all at once - a wholly unnecessary indication of the sheer genius at work.

It's difficult to be objective about this gig, as you genuinely get the impression these gents are incapable of doing wrong. Wells and Hubbert could jam away all night executing the worst ideas ever conceived by humanity and still sound life-defining, whilst Moffat can mumble any old gibberish and retain the same seductive, welcoming purr. In a way, the best measure of how good it was is that I immediately booked a train back up to experience the whole thing all over again. Wednesday: Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre. I can't fucking wait.

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RM Hubbert
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Aidan Moffat
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