LIVE REVIEW: Malcolm Middleton @ Cluny 2 (26.11.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Malcolm Middleton isn’t a songwriter for Friday or Saturday nights. The cold, wet dreich of a late November Monday, however, is an ideal setting – and for those of us who actually enjoy this time of year, the Arab Strap man’s return feels like the perfect miserabilist storm.

I get the impression I’m the target demographic for A Festival A Parade’s Joe Allan too, though the frontman hits a bum note while nodding to another Scottish favourite: “I hope there aren’t any Twilight Sad fans here,” he confesses, shortly after murdering the Glaswegians’ Sick (his words). Fortunately, songs such as People Person ensure a far better showcase for his own band, while The Twist – a Frightened Rabbit classic dedicated to Scott Hutchinson – also falls nicely within his range.

Of course, this is but a prelude to the self-deprecation synonymous with a Malcolm Middleton set. As if to demonstrate as much, one of tonight’s standouts is a new number entitled Love is a Momentary Lapse in Self-Loathing, featuring the choice lyric “fuck off with your happiness.” The delivery is characteristically dry, but this doesn’t mean there’s any deficit in humour. Indeed, despite its decidedly low-key release, his recent LP is perhaps the second finest ever to sport a giant banana on its sleeve, and when he’s not offering around free fruit (“I can sign it…” he deadpans) the likes of Man Up, Man Down and Buzz Lightyear Helmet prove equally rewarding.

Aside from a pair of solo acoustic openers, the guitarist is backed by the same band who played on Bananas – drummer David Jeans, double bassist Stevie Jones and keyboardist Graeme Smillie. Personally, I’ve always felt Middleton’s music translates best the sparser the setting, yet this particular setup suits him to the ground, allowing just enough space for his droll melancholy to run amok. Nowhere is this more so than on Cold Winter, an early favourite enhanced several times over by a wonderful full-band rework. Conversely, Blue Plastic Bags’ ode to stay-at-home drinking proves almost jovial, and while there’ll be ample opportunity for that in the coming months, tonight’s resolution to leave the sofa is more than vindicated.

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