San Francisco Bathhouse
May 13 | Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

Malcolm Middleton must be very sick of people accusing him of being a sad-sack. But while his songs act as an emotional enema, his on-stage banter could see him comfortably make a living as a stand-up comedian. He was a natural on-stage, winning over the crowd in between songs with witty observations, casual teasing and self-deprecating humour. He’d accompany people’s footsteps to the toilet with his guitar, he’d tell people to take their feet off the stage (and then tell them to put them back on), plug his live album to us even though he admitted that it was sold out. Of course, he had some great songs to play too.

The night was opened by Jeremy Taylor, a singer-songwriter who was armed with a nice voice, some promising new songs (I’ve seen him perform before) and a winning, if earnest personality. He probably needed a backing band, and some arrangements behind him, because he wasn’t distinctive enough to carry the nakedness that a solo performer needs. The songs were certainly capable, but his set was like taking a pleasant walking somewhere and not taking in the surroundings on the way.

It’s hard to say why Middleton felt so believable on stage, but I daresay the experience he has played a huge role. The former Arab Strap member, and solo performer comes to the plate with a lot of excellent songs, and he ran through some of his ‘bigger’ songs mainly from his 2007 album, A Brighter Beat – ‘We’re All Going to Die’, the brilliant ‘A Brighter Beat’, ‘Fuck It, I Love You’, ‘Four Cigarettes’ (which he played despite saying he’s forgotten the words and the chords). While his songs on record have loud/soft dynamics or a rather dynamic rhythmical sense which aids in the purging process, this solo acoustic set really brought out the directness and intimacy of the songs by stripping them right back.

The promoters did well to make this a sit-down gig as well, as the crowd were hushed and attentive all the way during the performance. Which meant everyone didn’t sing along when Middleton told them to during a haunting performance of ‘Blue Plastic Bags’. He teased the audience for that too. It was a lovely night, a captivating performance by an endearing Scottish veteran.