Now, we all know he’s got nae chance of winning - the brusque, militant marketing of Simon Cowell’s all-consuming pop behemoth ensures this coarse and timorous Falkirk-born beastie will have to make do with crumbs from the table of this festive feast - but just to witness a song laden with proclamations of loneliness and death mingle amongst the typical jovial tripe spouted out by Santa-hat adorning imbeciles is, well, a Christmas miracle in itself. Because lets face it, this time of year is full of fabricated shite and as the office party season swings into a vomit-inducing climax it’s reassuring to know that amidst an ever-present soirée of Wham and Slade records big Malcy is lurking; waiting for his moment to dim the fairy lights and pull out the knives.
Despite being ushered into a rammed - but apparently not sold out - venue like a plateful of pigs in blankets, there’s a buoyant atmosphere exuding from the punters at Liquid Rooms tonight by the time this reticent Xmas underdog takes to the stage. Backed by a four-piece band that includes the pristine purr of Strike The Colours’ immaculately presented Jenny Reeve, Middleton etches himself immediately into a triumvate of agoraphobic, acoustically led lilts that glisten to a fully blossomed frisk of percussion and keys. It’s a spellbound introduction that culminates in the brittle, hopelessness of ’Four Cigarettes’; a track where Malcolm’s laconic brogue is so awkwardly honest it’s as though he’s stripped himself bare under the bashful gaze of a room full of strangers.
What’s most apparent from his captivating performance is that for all the accusations of pessimistic lachrymosity, Middleton percolates an innate sense of sanguinity throughout his songs; juxtaposing the mournful lyrical repines of ’My Loneliness Shines’ and ’Break My Heart’ against sweeping backdrops lavished with Reeve’s scrumptious vanilla-scented harmonies and a scurrying bluster of deep-filled bass, drum and piano twinkles. Performed live, tracks like the infectiously uplifting ’A Brighter Beat’ are a bold attestation to Middleton development as a solo artist and perhaps an indication to how he’s progressed emotionally through the years. Rather than hiding coyly behind a guitar as was once his predilection, this fragile troubadour is now happy to take centre-stage while a jostling arrangement of melody swivels past his eardrums and out into the crowd below.
His new-found confidence is best exemplified during Christmas Number One-hankering new single ’We’re All Gonna Die’. Riotously received, the track ambushes the venue with a transient dash of synths directed by Malcolm’s stern proclamations of a lonely, possession-less death. On record it amounts to little more than a sprightly, if underwhelming, baptism to his more positivist third long player but here tonight its message suddenly clicks into place as Middleton piously barks out: “We’re all one in a million, we’re alive, we existed, we took part in the game”. Fuck the excruciating self-congratulating flippancy exuding from Xmas tunes of old, this is what we should be teaching the world this year – stick that in your pipe Sir Cliff, Noddy and all you other Christmas-raping mercenaries.
This boisterous and unexpectedly ebullient set is brought to a rapturous end with Jenny Reeve’s flighty vocals duelling fiercely with Malcolm’s dour-faced drawl on the mesmeric ’Fight Like The Night’ before gushing into ’A Happy Medium’’s looping choleric finale. Leaving the stage to an ardent cacophony of whoops and cheers, Malcolm Middleton may not be everyone’s idea of a perfect yuletide treat but after this performance there’s no doubting who tonight’s crowd wants to see *cough* sleigh the charts this Christmas.