There aren’t many bands that have gone through quite such a switch in styles in a 24 year history, a chameleon of a band, with the same soul and body albeit with the odd limb amputated and a prosthetic replacement.
It took a couple of years for the wider world to begin to appreciate the Edinburgh band but their reputation as a furious, spectacular live outfit found admirers in the right places. The contradiction between the quiet thoughtful frontman Roddy Womble off stage and the whirling dervish on was startling but as age and wisdom over took his impetuous youth, the lyricist and singer calmed.
Tonight he begins from the wings and only enters centre stage when it’s his cue to sing and then returns to the shadows. Back at their beginning, over two decades ago, the frenetic live performances could have hidden a nervousness, even stage fright that his retreat away from the spotlight tonight suggests. It doesn’t last and he visibly warms to the occasion in tandem with the crowd.
Since 97 things have become more considered though. More sedate. Roddy is in tweed, we’re all at least in our late 30’s. The frantic chaotic punk shows have been left behind and even ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ is paired down.
Idlewild in 2019 isn’t the same beast that conceived Captain, Hope Is Important or 100 Broken Windows. They are three quarters of the personnel but have added numbers to achieve what Rob Jones and his studio produce.
And yet they can’t deny their roots. ‘Same Thing Twice’ from new record Interview Music has its origins in that old house. With posters of Fugazi and Nirvana on the walls and cigarette burns in the carpets. The quartet that makes up the encore allows them to finally let loose. Everyone Says Your So Fragile, Film for the Future and A Modern Way of Letting Go are every bit as blistering and intense as they were 20 odd years ago and they conclude finale Remote Part/Scottish Fiction with Rob flailing across the stage wrestling his guitar till every last drop is left on stage.
Yet we’re ahead of ourselves by going backwards. The beginning and the middle is about their new album. With the premise of dreams as a jumping off point, ‘Dream Variation’ opens proceedings with an infectious keyboard led hook. In comparison to their previous L.P Everything Ever Written, which didn’t see anything from it getting an outing tonight, Interview Music has a constant pop edge, no more so than on ‘There’s a Place for Everything’ with a refrain of “it’s just a matter of time”. There are far more elements of synth-pop which work to a certain extent with their back catalogue but ultimately that is what everyone is here for.
They intersperse the new tracks into the set that flies out of traps with Roseability, You Held The World In Your Arms and (I Am) What I Am Not, with the new records title track a highlight.
The setlist leans heavily on third full length L.P The Remote Part with “American English” and “Live In A Hiding Place” crowd favourites.
Considering we are approaching the 20th Anniversary of 100 Broken Windows it is a little surprising to only see two songs make an appearance with the other big single “Little Discourage” arriving early on in proceedings but maybe there is something up their sleeve for the 2000 follow up to Hope is Important.
It is a strange feeling attending these kind of gigs when the passing of time is but the beating of a birds wing and one moment you are 15, 16, 17 or 18, the world is your blank page in an open book, the future is unwritten and then the next your favourite bands are veterans, the 90’s are an irrelevance to even those in their early twenties who were born as the decade and the albatross that was Britpop wrapped around its neck were dying.
We are now those adults we sneered at as they watched their aging idols, we the devotees waiting for one last greatest hits tour. And now we see their joy and are young again as though nothing of any great significance has happened. Just us in that room and our memories played out in front of us.
The main set is ended with El Capitan “….I harbour the strangest memories/Older than I could ever be/Stranded in nostalgia”.
There are worse places to be.