Arab Strap | Pet Deaths
Manchester Academy 2
Saturday 4th September 2021
Andy Brown heads to Manchester Academy to watch Scotland’s greatest export, Arab Strap. The band return to newly opened venues armed with songs from this year’s triumphant come back LP, As Days Get Dark.
I was lucky enough to catch Arab Strap live when they rose from the grave in 2016. After a lengthy break that saw both Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton release a rather impressive amount of music, the duo finally returned to the project that first introduced us to Falkirk’s finest. It was a great show and as the t-shirt I bought afterwards stated, this was Arab Strap Part II. I’m unsure whether tonight counts as part 2 or 3 but I am genuinely psyched to see them perform.
“We’re here to ruin your night early on”, jokes Pet Deaths vocalist Liam Karima as the band ease us into the night with a gently persuasive set of beautiful ballads and meditative magic. They usually perform with drums and bass yet the stripped-back three-piece produce a sound as captivating as it is gentle and restrained. The achingly beautiful If Only Bad Things Could Happen pulls us into the set from the very start.
Serene guitar arpeggios tumble through soundscapes of celestial synths and bird songs. Karima jangles his keys, twists his arms and croons as he lets himself melt into the music. Bats In Your Hair and the overwhelmingly gorgeous Meet Me At The Avalanche creates a sense of wide-eyed wonder. The night is most definitely not ruined.
A pulsating techno beat and bright red lights herald Arab Straps imminent arrival. The pulse morphs into the opening bars of The Turning Of Our Bones and we’re well and truly back in business. “Another seven years entombed in lethargy and lies/ But let’s dig out our old clothes and prepare for celebration” sings Moffat as the songs dark spell weaves its way through the crowd, “I am The Son of Sleep/ All I need’s an invitation”.
For many in the audience, tonight may very well be their first celebration in some time. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly wary of being in the thick of a crowd but the music manages to send those worries packing pretty quickly. What follows is as dark, unique and captivating as I’ve come to expect. The power this band wield live can’t be underestimated; anyone expecting a lo-fi approach will be greeted by a sizable wall-of-noise. Drums, bass, piano and a second guitar really bring these superbly sordid psalms to life.
The ace Girls Of Summer blows the doors wide open as it explodes into a breathless, post-rock sprawl. Hearts are left pounding and mouths agape. As my gobsmacked friend wonders aloud, how are they going to top that? They play a set full of old and new tunes; ensuring there’s more than a bit of blue thrown in for good measure. For a band who made their name with songs that sounded persistently hungover, Arab Strap are a real force to be reckoned with.
New songs fit effortlessly into the set and are as hypnotic and intoxicating as anything in their back catalogue. The anthemic Kebabylon manages to navigate Friday nights in Glasgow while Here Comes Comus is a brooding, belligerent beast. Fable Of The Urban Fox is delivered as a passionate two-fingered salute to the Tory party while the delicate Tears On Tour provides yet another stunning lyric. Moffat daydreaming of a career spent, “telling tales of woe”.
Such tales include the skeletal Piglet which sounds as painfully intimate, bitter and brilliant as it did back in ‘98. New Birds is as majestic as always and tonight’s performance delivers a sizable shiver up my spine. “You have to remember the kiss that you worked so hard on” urges Moffat just before the song bares its teeth, “And you’ll know you’ve done the right thing”. Speed-Date on the other hand provides a rush of serotonin; Moffat’s gritty romance matched to a particularly heart-racing slice of euphoric indie-rock.
Every track is greeted with whoops of approval yet the biggest cheer is reserved for the eternally epic, The First Big Weekend. The crowds gentle swaying turns into dancing as the songs four-to-the-floor beat kicks in. A few verses in and the song stop’s unexpectedly: Moffat apologises and Middleton almost launches into The Proclaimers. When it starts again it’s greeted by the crowd cheering, dancing and singing along. It’s with this that I remember: it’s Saturday night and I’m at a gig. It really does feel like a privilege to be here.
Moffat and Middleton return to the stage for a brief and beautiful acoustic encore. Packs Of Three has never sounded so tender while a stripped-back rendition of The Shy Retirer provides yet another highlight. “I lost my social skills a while ago” croons Moffat over the gentle chords, “But now I feel them coming back”. It’s a line that seems to take on extra relevance tonight. If you’re going out on a Saturday for the first time in ages, who better to spend the night with than Arab Strap?
Photo by Paul Savage.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.