Saturday, 14 May 2011

Live Review: Meursault, Conquering Animal Sound, Jonnie Common

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Saturday 2 April 2011

Edinburgh crowds have always had a bad rap. The popular view is that, despite the vast student insurgence, Auld Reekie is a town without a solid gig-going culture. In truth, it’s easy to accede to such an outlook. All too often touring (and local) bands are met by an almost empty room, give or take the mandatory guestlist inhibitors and local music hacks. Yet, nights like tonight prove the exception to the rule. When Meursault are in town (which is not as often as it once was) the locals flock like sheep. And, right now, Limbo is the pen they’re all huddling in to.

The Voodoo Room’s inaugural musical offering comes from much vaunted Glasgow maestro Jonnie Common. Taking to the stage armed with effects board and guitar – the obligatory artillery for Scottish solo artists these days - Common’s shtick is cutesy off-piste pop with a sprinkling of technological sorcery. For the most part he hits the mark. His understated cooing over the minutiae of every day life is transformed into bouncing astral straddling ditties that share the Beta Band’s penchant for a scuffed up, ragtag tune. It’s chirpy stuff, wholeheartedly of the Fence persuasion, but such ramshackle tidings can, at times, feel contrived, as though executing a song without marked flaw is a capital offence.

In stark contrast to Common’s dilapidated approach, Conquering Animal Sound (CAS) are stout purveyors of sonic perfection. For a long time, the pair of Anneke Kampman and James Scott were constantly hit by catastrophe; seemingly never able to recreate the texture-heavy compositions of their recordings live. But slowly the calamities have weaned away. In their place is a concentrated sound that not only replicates the multi-layered arrangements of debut LP Kammerspiel, but accentuates and magnifies them to fill more expansive environments.

Thanks to the Scottish transport system’s rudimentary weekend collapse, CAS take to the stage without the benefit of a pre-show soundcheck. Despite the hitch, the duo pull out an engrossing set. Kampman’s hair-tingling mew is the obvious focal point, her impish yelps climbing all over the skittery flushes of ‘Bear’ and ‘Flinch’. These electronic efforts are bulging with intrigue, each one slow-building into thick rhythmic pulses that consume the room. If anything, too many ideas are packed away in these bulbous arrangements, but when a band can close on the thrilling serration of ‘Tracer’ such complaints are trite. On this display, CAS are an experience to sink in to again and again.

In the past, headliners Meursault have had similar fits of over-cramming, fleeting too readily between genres to grasp the kind of linearity that floats more mainstream boats. But tonight, the only thing the Edinburgh ensemble cram is the stage. With numbers swollen to seven, encompassing a newly induced drummer and violinist, this is an entirely different beast from the five-man troupe that toured album number two, All Creatures Will Make Merry. Gone are the bitmapped electronics and brittle canticles. In their place is a band with muscle and velocity. A band that sounds like its time is now.

From the first blasting of bass and drum that rifle the air, Meursault mk II clearly mean business. Thick swathes of percussion swallow Pennycook’s soaring crow whole; scarring guitars swirl around like murderous post-rock; mourning strains of violin tingle with lachrymose emotion. If it didn’t say Meursault on the door, you wouldn’t believe it. In fact, so far removed is this rambunctious din from creaking, scratching alt. folk, it could conceivably be an entirely new band with entirely new ideas.

Adding to the sense of renewal, much of the set revolves around freshly-formed numbers like 'A Mother’s Arms’ and ‘Hole’. While a hint of folk sensibility still resides, both are tuned with a full band in mind, subtly shaded with screeds of violin and guitar. Old favourite ‘Crank Resolutions’ is still an apocalyptic pummel of jogging electronica, but this time it’s accentuated by clamorous, ear-battering drums that oscillate relentlessly. It’s a thrilling tidemark in a set of persistent highs, including the dramatic siege of ‘Settling’ – a rousing triumph that outlines Meursault’s stance as a fully functioning unit.

With harmonies pulled straight from a Scottish barber shop, the stripped-bare ‘One Day This Will All Be Fields’ finds Pennycook’s spiked vocal spiralling out above destitute ukelele plucks. It’s perhaps the closest the night gets to recalling Meursault of old, yet these tender strains fit perfectly with the band’s new found bluster. Closing out on a struggle of tumbling percussion and wailing strings, ‘What You Don’t Have’ notches the decibels back to deafening. A fitting finale to a remarkable show, the last drifting notes are met by 400 palms blistering in appreciation. If this is the sound of Meursault today, tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

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