Gig: Arab Strap, The Zodiac, 6 Oct

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I’ve waited three years for this to happen; the sainted Arab Strap, on the hallowed ground of the Zodiac. Sadly, Messrs. Moffat and Middleton’s (undeserved) reputation for inconsistent live shows must have reached Oxford; the room’s only half full. The Strap walk on to a decidedly muted reception, and I find myself wondering if this lot’d bother to cheer the resurrected Elvis. Never underestimate people who know you can have a good time in Falkirk; without breaking a sweat, Arab Strap conquer Oxford, and make a 6’4 failed boxer weep. The band tonight is the biggest stage setup yet seen at an Arab Strap gig; the two core members are joined by a string section and three-piece backing band. The sound’s somewhere between the bludgeoning attack of their first live album and the ‘post-folk’ acoustics of their latest. ‘Fucking Little Bastards’ is like Concorde landing on your face; ‘Who Named the Days?’, the sound of male unity in the face of the world, both gentle and majestic, musical Hemingway for modern men; the reworked ‘Here We Go’, unimpeachably brilliant, the strings never threatening to over-sweeten the pill. There are no duds in the set. Aidan does his Elvis impersonation, has a conversation with someone in the crowd, requests good reviews, accepts a few free drinks. The band walk off, leaving Malcolm and Aidan alone on stage, asking for requests. They play ‘Pro-(your) life’, presenting the male side of abortion with an eloquence and nobility to persuade the Pope. The emotional exhaustion, confusion and regret that seep from the song reduce your hard-hearted reviewer to mush. Afterwards, I meet them and shake hands; they go back to move their own amps. There’s no justice for the best band in Christendom; Turin Brakes get roadies..ARCHIVE: 1st Week MT2003 

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