Thursday, 28 February 2008

LIVE REVIEW: Sons And Daughters/Black Kids/Broken Records, 16 Feb, Queen's Hall

The cathedral-like confines of Edinburgh’s Queen's Hall have always made for uncomfortable listening. Sure, those over-bearing balconies and sky-scraping ceilings present an ostentatious welcome mat for the pounding feet of gospel choirs and cabaret acts that traipse inside during the annual festival melee but on a freezing cold February eve the venue’s hollow, chill-filled acoustics do little to warm the cockles of the city’s everyday gig goers. And tonight is no exception.

With a bill containing three acts that span the length of hype past, present and future, this should be a sweat-clad celebration of celestial indie goodness. Yet once past those gleaming front-doors and into the gaping jaws of the main hall the promise of a bucks-fizzing atmosphere falls depressingly flat. Perhaps such staidness is due to an infuriating fire-alarm that found hundreds of well-preened punters besieging the sub-arctic streets of Newington but as the much-vaunted Broken Records take to the stage there’s a distinct lack of eagerness to the occasion.

The septet are, in every sense, sublime; their pillaging soiree of earth-covered melodies flooding the eardrums of the few who’ve found their way from the bar. In all honesty, there are only so many words this DiSser can write about the star-bound ensemble without coming across as an arse-sniffing fanboy infatuated with their melodramatic sways and soul-lifting symphonies. So, for a more detailed depiction of Broken Records tonight, add this
to this, divide by two and you’ve got a fairly representative account of another wondrous showing.

Strange as it may seem, Pitchfork-pushed indie-darlings Black Kids might just have the most to prove tonight. Whereas 2008 will be the year Broken Records test the warmth of the waters out with their Scottish hinterland, this Florida-born quintet will be looking to build upon 2007’s dramatic rise to prominence and convince the cynics there’s more to their swollen romance-blushed jingling than just meeja-led flag-waving. Yet, as they shuffle to the fore with all the awkward indignity of a morning after walk of shame, the chances of witnessing a gasping display of potential-filling appear as likely as the law acumen of a helium-brained ex-model ‘winning’ a divorce battle against her pop-behemoth husband.

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However, all traces of doubt disappear the moment the first blast of swirling synth-splattered melody gushes from the PA. Instantly invigorated, the band are a buzz of activity led by the spasmodic barnet flailing of figurehead Reggie Youngblood – a man surely blessed with the finest name in music today. The funk-laden lounging of ‘I Wanna Be Your Limousine’ is first to stoke the set’s fires, exquisitely combining a buxom bass with Youngblood’s Robert Smith-like wail to create a booty-wiggling slice of ice-cool pop that culminates in a cooler-than-fuck-tastic rendition of “Chrome-e-o, oh, oh” resonating around a rapidly pore-seeping venue.

Armed with a rash of incessant, feel-good popsicles, the band revisits almost every chart-infecting genre of the last 50 years with effortless aplomb. Tracks like ‘I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You’ and ‘Hurricane Jane’ drench lugholes with the bedazzling sound of ‘60s soul, powder-puff pop and cranky indie-jerking without overburdening either’s gorgeous sun-kissed simplicity. Despite the sure-footed endeavours of the band’s entirety, it’s the honey-coated harmonies of Dawn Watley and Ali Youngblood (Reggie’s slightly less dapperly named sibling) that steal the show. Spread across every one of tonight’s rosy-cheeked offerings, their polka-dot speckled doo-wopping reaches its peak during an ebullient closer that somehow ends up sounding like the cheery-cola slurping, Hubba-Bubba chomping repercussion of a Sugar Hill Gang and New Order fuck-fest.

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Arriving to a boisterous reception, veteran hype-hoarders Sons & Daughters (S&D forthwith) have a lot to live up to if they’re to surpass the scrumptious pop-twinkling of their stage predecessors. But from the moment the Weegie quartet set the wheels of their screeching, rockabilly vestibule in motion it’s clear this ain’t gonna be a showing to etch in the memory banks as the night S&D finally lunged out of Franz Ferdinand’s shadow and into the limelight. And the sad thing is that it’s starting to feel like they never will.

Not so long ago, S&D were a ravenous brawl of a band, wielding an array of jack-knifed riffs and pummelling percussion that bayed for the blood of the adoring crowds below. But tonight there’s few glimpses of such flesh-hankering desires, as ‘Red Receiver’ and ‘Medicine’ – so often the raucous, acid-spewing punk highlights of S&D’s live showings – are churned out with all the apathetic sincerity of a band that seems eager to show off their newer numbers.

Yet, the less than ornately wrapped tidings of The Gift are the lowlights of a disappointingly sterilised set, with record stomping romps like ‘The Nest’ and ‘Gilt Complex’ tempered by an overwhelming sense of insecurity. At one point, frontwoman Adele Bethel appears so overcome with timidity it’s as if she’d prefer nothing more than to cradle herself into another world where no-one can hear her crow, suggesting S&D are struggling to acclimatise to the record’s newer, pop-aping direction.

‘Rama Lama’’s Stooges-infused chaos at least adds a short, sharp boost of adrenaline to this dreary, and thankfully encore-less, affair but having endured a succession of half-arsed set-fillers it’s difficult to excerpt any joy from the track's pandemic guitar crunches. This distinct lack of urgency from the stage is of little concern to a bevvied-up crowd that embraces the performance as if it were the band’s last – sadly, if Sons & Daughters continue in the same vein as tonight's languid display, that may not be such a bad thing.

* photos courtesy of the lovely Loraine Ross

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