Glasvegas + Angela McCluskey
6 Jan 2009: Bowery Ballroom New York, NY
I had no problem naming Glasvegas’ self-titled debut album to my best of 2008 list. The way it soars, the way it rocks, the way its best songs have that inescapable, hurtling grandeur—that epic, U2-style urgency for even the most mundane topics, complete with crescendo fueled guitars that build up and then splash down like waves—afford it a substance, or at least, a resonance, where most of last year’s hyped releases came up empty.
And it’s that I have such affection for the disc that I register such disappointment for their live show, so far; Glasvegas’ sold out gig at the Bowery Ballroom at the start of the New Year was almost impossibly drab.
It was also blinding, and quite literally so—the Scottish band brought to the stage four large light panels complete with huge bulbs that served to backlight the band as if it were playing in a stadium. I don’t mind creative lighting or that type of posturing; I do mind having a light source blasted into my face such that looking at the stage feels hazardous to my health and watching others in the crowd come up with creative ways to avert theirs is a nervously hilarious and unintended byproduct of a show.
But it was only one of several flaws. Where was that same soaring feeling from the album? Why didn’t songs like “Lonesome Swan”, “Stabbed”, and “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry” take flight and proceed to bowl everyone over? Oddly, the experience reminded me of an Interpol concert—the content is from a far different point on the indie rock compass, but Interpol has the problem perennially: Brilliant, grandiose studio deliveries that come across stiff and calculated in the live setting. It isn’t studio trickery, either, that makes the difference for Glasvegas—the album arrangements and sonic compositions are actually pretty spare and straightforward. Something about the set just didn’t jibe; it was 10 songs, no encore, and a workmanlike hour of A-to-B Glasvegas introduction. It felt like a record company showcase or a South by Southwest bill. They finally found momentum by the time “Daddy’s Gone” arrived to close the set—and then it was over.
It is worth debate for sure as many attendees on various blogs and message boards have since said that it was the audience that failed Glasvegas, not the other way around. It isn’t a matter of those extremes. To these eyes and ears, the crowd was fine and did what it could with the blinding eye strain, while Glasvegas was somewhat mechanical and delivered a B-level set featuring B-level versions of A-level material. Here’s hoping their live show marinates and develops—how sad to think such transporting studio music suggesting so much conflict and tension and release would sound so… inert.
Opening act Angela McCluskey was effusive in her praise of the headliners—a classy move considering how much more musical and inviting her own set was. Considering that so much of her appeal lies in how her luscious voice effects an almost perfect balance of smoky, Macy Gray-style soul and the sort of spooked, yet sexy delivery you’d hear from a Beth Orton, she might have been more effective had she and a band not had to battle a brutally unbalanced sound mix at the Bowery.
It was another disappointment on a night full of them; McCluskey and the band were getting into pleasantly fat ska and reggae inflections, plenty of groovy R&B and a dusting of folk-pop, country-rock and cocktail jazz—and you couldn’t hear a damn word, phrase or grace note of it.