Don’t doubt it: The only thing Brassy’s set of self-conscious playground music did for Idlewild was set the bar higher.
The lads should have already been better off than their opening act, if only because each of its members only played one instrument. Unfortunately, The Brassy Amateur Hour seemed to leave its bad taste all over the Scottish quintet. A mediocre crowd reception, muddled sound, and a “light show” that was more a distraction than anything else all combined to hinder the first third of the set. Luckily, Idlewild’s studious approach to uncut Rock and Roll chaos helped get the night back on track.
Vocalist Roddy Woomble’s a strange one. Guitar-less, he stands in front of his band with arms wrapped about the mic stand, perennially wiping imaginary sweat from his brow. Cursed with bad hair, his tangled brown mop looks laughable next to bassist Bob Fairfoull’s Cobainish blonde mane. And Woomble possesses none of the traditional frontman’s traits: loud mouth (Chris Robinson); asshole (Liam); self-destruction (Iggy); or a respect-commanding visage (Richard Ashcroft). Instead, he lets his group’s manic energy and serious American indie-rock fetish run the show. I’m not saying he’s incapable; indeed, his voice is a true instrument, evoking early REM, Morissey, and the Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann, often in the same song (“Little Discourage”). But Woomble is an anomaly in a world of vocalists that constantly demand the spotlight.
100 Broken Windows (EMI/Food), Idlewild’s US debut, is a spectacular production effort by Dave Eringa (UK) and Bob Weston (USA). While retaining the raucous guitar lines of 1998’s Hope Is Important (Food), the new album’s tighter melodies and synth touches further delineate Idlewild’s already potent sound collage — i.e., more Smiths, less Husker Du. But a guitar band they are, and live, their amps get the worst of it. At times Tuesday night, Woomble’s solitary shape seemed like the eye of a storm made up of Fairfoull’s and guitarist Rod Jones’ flailing limbs. Crappy red and yellow gels in the Double Door lighting system only heightened the effect that an American indie rock act from 10 years ago had taken over the stage.
Numbers like “Actually It’s Darkness” and “Roseability” fared best Tuesday, as the songs’ quiet/loud dynamics gave the sound system a chance to recover from the band’s thrashing. When “Actually It’s Darkness” really got moving, Idlewild seemed to use its structure as a way out of the funk left by Brassy. And when the chorus hit to shouts of “Fuck Yeah!” in the audience, it was obvious that the song has modern-rock radio heatseeker written all over it. Whether or not Idlewild will ever reach those heights in the US is anyone’s guess, given the sad state of domestic radio and entertainment media (that has been chronicled so bitterly on this site). If the dopes in Three Doors Down are a better band than Idlewild, I’ll eat my hat.
There’s nothing wrong with the pretty, polite pop music that has been coming out of the UK in the last couple of years. Travis, Coldplay, and their ilk are very good at what they do, and I’ll hug them all if I see ’em in an airport. But there’s something visceral and rewarding about seeing a Scottish band tear apart their songs on stage, without any of that coy humor that has been a trademark of Idlewild’s countrymen-in-arms. It was almost as if the tables were turned, and we were watching a young Dinosaur Jr rip out their hearts on the stage of a back alley pub in Glasgow. No one quite knew what to make of them at first, but as the guitars wailed and the singer screamed, it all made sense. And the Lord made distortion, and it was good.