Skim read some of your favourite bands’ touring schedules and it’s exceedingly likely you’ll be frustrated to discover a multitude of Manchester’s, a handful of Birmingham’s and Leeds, and not a lot of Sheffield’s. Thank God for Drowned in Sound then, putting its faith in our city and hosting some quite dazzling and eclectic gigs here. Tonight is no exception as ex-Arab Strap front man Aidan Moffat is joined by fellow Scot Bill Wells to play tracks lifted mostly from last year’s ‘Everything’s getting older’.
Earlier, local singer-songwriter David J. Roch kick-started the night, albeit in a slightly passive fashion. Roch immediately wows the crowd with his vocal gymnastics; Lost Child begins with haunting falsetto akin to Jónsi of Sigur Ros, to then break into aggressive guitar strumming and vocals that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the more emotive singers from early 00’s indie (James Walsh of Starsailor perhaps). There is a slight feeling that tonight’s performance is a little phoned in; Drown falls a little flat in an acapella arrangement, and the usually boisterous Peace with the Devil is a little lackadaisical, but on the whole Roch showed that, even when not at his best, he is still captivating and has one of the most impressive voices to come out of Sheffield.
RM Hubbert clearly has a connection with music that most can only dream of; he states that he communicates best through his elegant Flamenco guitar playing skills, and it shows as he drifts through his beautiful yet troubling work. Hubbert flits between the rhythmic slapping of strings and sweetly picked chords and melody usually heard from a piano. Towards the end of his set, back-to-back odes are played; one to his estranged and now deceased father-in-law, the other to the only thing that keeps he and his ex-wife on speaking terms; the dog. “He’s like a furry child” he smirks, as he begins yet another insight into the splendour beyond his tortured soul.
With a simple “Hi”, Moffat lightly taps a cymbal as Bill Wells and band accompany him on the subdued instrumental Tasogare before moving into Let’s Stop Here, a story based around the temptation of adultery returning from a long forgotten time and place. It is every bit of moving as it is on record and, despite a minor setback as Moffat forgets the words and restarts the song, his solemnly self-aware lyrics are every bit as earnest. Dinner Time is terrifyingly theatrical concluding with deliberately anti-climactic witticism. If you were to follow Moffat on Twitter, you would realise that the band’s cover of Bananarama’s Cruel Summer is not ironic at all, and thus avoids the cheesy pop cover gimmick that so many acts shoehorn into their set. Highpoint of the evening is the heart-breaking Copper Tin Roof; Moffat poetically speaks of leaving a wake early to be alone with his memories because he was “sick of hearing everyone else’s”, before the damning realisation that ‘Everything’s getting older’. These rather bleak words are juxtaposed with beautiful piano twinkling from Bill Wells, and the tasteful backing of minimal double bass and film noir trumpet.
The band hastily leaves the stage with the poignant and life-affirming The Greatest Story Ever Told before returning with Man of Cloth and Box It Up from their E.P. release ‘Cruel Summer’. Both tracks extend the ideals of the album, and are equally as sharp and powerful. Man of Cloth is possibly Moffatt at his most slapstick, speaking of attending a Halloween party dressed as a vicar, and getting a fuck because of it. Box It Up is saturated in philosophical melancholy and demonstrates Moffatt’s talent storytelling has evolved from his days with Arab Strap; he speaks of long-term memories, rather than frolics in the last Friday night. Two of the musicians leave the stage, leaving Wells and Moffat to perform the muted lullaby And So We Must Rest; a fitting way to rubberstamp a night with a running theme of seeing light in the darkness, the beauty in horror, and embracing life whatever it throws at you; but do it all with a knowing wink.