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Monday, November 26, 2012

Live Review: Meursault, The Black Swan, Newcastle, 22/11/2012

Although far from revolutionary, one could make a case for Meursault's Something For The Weakened being among the most intriguing musical transitions of the past year. Largely abandoning their electronic flutters and lower than lo-fi aesthetic, the Edinburgh collective's third LP essentially saw them trade individuality for the songwriting abilities of leader Neil Pennycook, uncovering reserves of depth and emotional resonance previously only hinted at. Some would call it bold, others would call it a regression, but few have disputed the end result - perhaps the finest recent produce from Scotland's thriving folk scene. What's also becoming evident, though, is the extent to which it suits their live shows, a fact reflected by both its heavy presence in tonight's setlist and the moving performance it oversaw.

Aided by string ensemble The Pumpkin Seeds and perfectly housed before about 50 people in the cellar of Newcastle's Black Swan, Pennycook's songs here took on a whole new lease of life, matching and often even surpassing the staggering intimacy conveyed in the studio. The luscious backing in particular payed off throughout, no doubt reaching its peak during the most sparse and harrowing moments on offer. "Hole" for instance was far from a predictable standout, yet distinguished itself when set against stark, minimalist piano, while the beautifully candid "Mamie" somehow managed to stoop below its recorded threshold of pain and rawness. The same was true of "Settling," the ultimate highlight whose amped-up electrics found the singer stretching his vocal intensity (and indeed his mouth!) beyond accepted dimensions - a feat which became a pattern in many of the more raucous numbers.

Older songs were also given the opportunity to shine during an hour-and-a-quarter stay, but tonight's show was very much about showcasing fresh material, a perspective from which it can only be considered a success. With the vast majority aired and unanimously impressing, the strength and sturdiness contained within the new record was on full display, and as with all good gigs its fruits were not only reproduced but also improved upon. Anything but weakened, Meursault are in fact sounding healthier than ever, and slowly but surely seem to be reining in the recognition their exploits deserve.

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