REVIEW: Malcolm Middleton, Sage Two, Gateshead
The Falkirk songwriter has built a career from being the archetype miserable Scot, first as one half of his cult band Arab Strap, and more recently through his similarly excellent solo works.
It's an acquired taste at the best of times - a fact perhaps reflected by the far-from-capacity Hall 2 audience - yet still strikes all the right nerves for fans he's acquired over the past two decades.
It’s now 10 years since Arab Strap disbanded, but if new album Summer of ’13 is anything to go by, his creative spark is burning as brightly as ever.
His first studio effort in seven years, the record’s fruits were amply brought to life by a three-piece band, with a fresh focus on electronics adding to his trademark deadpan delivery.
The live renditions couldn’t quite match the vibrancy heard on record, yet that couldn’t prevent the likes of You & I, Like John Lennon Said and Little Hurricane proving welcome additions.
Despite all the new toys, this was very much the same old Malky - a man who’d sooner hide behind a bank of synths than do anything you’d associate with a charismatic mainman.
Beneath the gloomy outlook and doom-laden lyrics, however, lies a severely underrated gift for melody, not to mention a wicked strain of bone-dry gallows humour.
Make no mistake though, Middleton’s real gems tend to be his gloomiest.
Take Love Comes in Waves for instance; a tortured tale of romance with an inevitably dire conclusion, or the fact that his solo acoustic encore represented the night’s ultimate high point.
Recalling his backing-less visit to The Cluny two years ago, it proved marvellously bleak on which to end, particularly when proceedings were brought to a close with fan favourite Devil and the Angel.
In it, Middleton laments his songs in terms which can’t be detailed in a family newspaper.
Neither can we print one punter’s response when prompted to fill in the final lyric – but it’s fair to say his version was decidedly kinder than the original!