Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Live: The Hidden Cameras and My Latest Novel - Manchester

The Hidden Cameras / My Latest Novel
Night and Day Cafe, Manchester, UK

One of the biggest bugbears of playing quieter music is the risk that the chattering masses in the venue will be louder than you. I was excited when I found that My Latest Novel were the support tonight, as they’d been on my ‘to see’ list for ages. Yet at first it’s hard to make out what they're doing over the hubbub. But as they proceed, something extraordinary happen – people shut up and listen.

Theirs is a mad blend – some tracks are like an indie guitar band, some sound like a modern day act for legendary Scottish label Postcard Records, whilst others are more like an off-beat folk act. One song features exquisite four-part harmonies over a bass drum. Others, like When We Were Wolves are deceptively simple, the three or four repeated lyrics locking in the back of your brain. With their use of melodica and violin, at times I’m reminded of The Associates, at others Arcade Fire, but it’s all intensely original. Even if no-one can quite decipher the between song banter due to their thick Glaswegian accents, all would agree that this brilliant band were worth the price of admission alone.

Which was just as well, as the current incarnation of The Hidden Cameras proves to be a major disappointment. One of my live highlights of 2004 was the Union Of Wine show they put on at London’s Bush Hall, featuring dancing satyrs, and nymphs running through the crowd squirting wine into revellers’ mouths. So why the fall from one of the most lively and exciting gigs I’ve witnessed to this?

Well, firstly all the theatrics are gone. Secondly there’s a heavy reliance of the new album Awoo, which isn’t as instantly memorable as its predecessors. But mainly it’s the sound of the band itself, and the way they’re playing. The amazing builds that marked them last time are missing, and the tempo is quite leaden throughout. No, for the first half the songs never got the chance to soar; even long-time favourite Day Is Dawning fell flat. Almost unthinkably, it was just dull.

And then there’s Joel himself, who’s also undergone a bit of a metamorphosis. With his muscled arms emerging from his blue vest, with his very short hair and a three day growth – bloody hell, he’s evolved into Mark Seymour!

Near the end they finally pull it all together, but it’s a little too late. And it all falls apart again as we’re asked to sing Happy Birthday for band member Maggie, who then spends five odd minutes talking crap about Manchester vs. Liverpool rivalries. For ages I’d wanted a copy of their rare debut Ecce Homo, but as I’ll have to talk to the band who are now signing all merchandise sales to get one, I slip out empty-handed and sad-hearted.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review first appeared in Inpress, Melbourne in October 2006 (see below)