Well, if a couple of years ago you said to me that Glasvegas would still be playing in such small venues as The Fleece in 2013, I’d have called you out for the ignorant musical buffoon I surely would have pegged you as. Glasvegas in the late noughties were the band for whom all things were possible, riding on a tide of hope and music press hype, having delivered a brilliant debut album, arriving fully formed as a distillation of everything cool in rock’n’roll through the ages, and featuring a real candidate for Spokesperson For A Generation in James Allen. Wow, how things changed, and in a hurry… their sophomore effort, “Euphoric/ Heartbreak” whilst flawed but still generally damn fine to my ears, was universally panned as an overblown, overwrought and over-reaching exercise in epic stadium rock, and knocked them back to practically square one. As for Spokesperson For A Generation, that mantle seems to have passed on to Frank Turner, with Allen generally – and unfairly – regarded by the press as a white-clad embarrassment. So, in surprisingly reduced circumstances, it may well be make or break time for this once ridiculously promising band. Glasvegas, what have you to offer us in 2013?
Rach and I made this our Anniversary outing (one day shy of our 8th), leaving the kids with grandma and parking up at 8 after a good run. Wandered into the piss-poorly attended venue, early doors, just as support The Shiverin’ Sheiks came on. They were a traditional rockabilly 4-piece apparently spotted by Glasvegans James Allan and Jonna Lofgren while out for a drink, all in matching 50’s suits and featuring a big ol’ double bass! The moustachioed vocalist announced one number with, “this next one will cheer you all up a bit – it’s about how we’re all going to hell!” and their best number, “Sheik of Arrow B” had me reaching both for the metaphorical Arabian headdress, followed by some intricate hula melodies from the impressive guitarist. Their set closer turned into an adjective-fest; “we’ve been for your listening pleasure, the quivering, quaking, defenestrating (!), Shiverin’ Sheiks!” A somewhat different, whole lot of fun opening set, which Rach, with her Buddy Holly hat on, loved.
The place filled up to a more respectable level, but Rach and I took an easy spot right down the front, stage left. Allan, back in black (hooray!), led the band onstage to a swathe of billowing dry ice and discordant background noise, opening with the moody, atmospheric “Later…”, the title track from the new, insidiously growing, CD, his fractured, heavily Scots accented vocals and upright drummer Jonna’s steamhammer pounding already a feature. A menacing “Youngblood” followed, all seething drama and power and a quantum leap over the recorded version, and we knew we were in for something very special.
“Thanks everybody for coming to see the band,” a humble Allan said before the stark, late night betrayal drama of “Cheating Heart”. Allan was so wrapped up in his portrayal that he knocked the mikestand into the front rows, but acknowledged this during the lyric then apologised to the girl it landed on, handing her one of his beers. Stylish. “Euphoria Take My Hand” was simply stunning, a soaring widescreen epic, making fools of anyone who thought otherwise. A chant of “One James Allan!” subsequently started up, to which Allan replied, “thank fuck!”
This was a real performance of precision, passion and power from a band on top of their game. Allan, certainly not the greatest singer in the world but a supreme master of emotional projection, poured heart and soul into his performance, and was personable, voluble and utterly riveting throughout. “The World Is Yours” was magnificent, an understated opening leading to a massive noise-fest crescendo, and not the first (or last) spine-tingling moment of the night. “All I Want Is my Baby” was yearning, powerful and plaintive, with Allan stretching his voice way beyond its comfort zone, before he diffused the mood afterwards by chatting with the merch man, (“I don’t normally see you; how you doin’ man?”) and, clearly loving what he does, declaring this, “the best job in the world”.
The Jesus And Mary Chain stomp of “Geraldine” solicited a mass singalong, but “official” set closer “Go Square Go” surpassed that, the band downing instruments to conduct the audience in the “here we fuckin’ go!” terrace chant refrain. Allan stayed onstage then, delivering a bare, poignant and harrowing “Flowers And Football Tops” on a solo acoustic. Allen then referred to his tuning up and gathering his thoughts as a, “tumbleweed moment,” before delivering tonight’s highlight, a magnificent, heart-tugging “Daddy’s Gone”, their epic paean to absent fatherhood, with the refrain once again being sung back by the audience while Allan looked on, impressed. A final “Lots, Sometimes”, again building to a crescendo of white noise and drama, ended a quite, quite brilliant set, Allan leaving to handshakes from the front rows (myself included). Wow. Simply… wow.
We gathered our thoughts (and a set-list) before heading off, reflecting on this performance and Glasvegas’ place in the world. For me, they’ve captured lightning in a bottle, and are currently the act who, “live”, transcend their recorded work more so than anyone else. Relaxed and with pressures and expectations lifted from their shoulders, they utterly killed it tonight, delivering a set as potent, strident, powerful and emotive as any set I’ve seen this year. And to anyone who’ve abandoned and/or dismissed them; people, you seriously don’t know what you’re missing.