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INDIE ROCK ARCADE FIRE The Castle, Edinburgh, Thu 1 Sep ●●●●●

Any band gigging at Edinburgh Castle is going to feel a sense of occasion. Arcade Fire more so than most. Frontman Win Butler, his wife Régine Chassagne and the rest of the Montreal outfit are obsessed with the fragility of the modern world. Playing in front of its burning braziers they make the Castle seem a symbol of permanence and highly valued history in amongst so many fleeting and over-saturated experiences. In short, the venue is very much Arcade Fire’s cup

of mead. Or shorter still, as Butler says on stage, ‘Fuck, we’re playing the Castle!’ The enthusiasm helps suck in swirls of Edinburgh spookiness, captivatingly so on ‘Haiti’, Chassange’s eulogy to the ghosts of centuries of brutally mistreated Haitians.

There are also several stabs at primal ferocity. Set

opener ‘Ready to Start’ is fiery as hell. So too ‘Month of May’, from their most recent album, last year’s The Suburbs, which turns into an angry wig- out, thrashed into the night through blinding white lights. ‘The kids are all standing with their arms folded tight’, Butler sings at the song’s peak, as some of the crowd self-consciously uncross their tightly-folded arms, trying not to look like one of the desensitised, grey-faced masses that ‘The Suburbs’ attacks. Through the thoughtful mid-point of the set the

energy starts to drop. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just a balmy evening at the end of the Festival, and the Castle has been made comfortable enough to accommodate fans of Bryan Ferry a few days later. Within its walls, the venue feels (appropriately

enough) very safe. People sway, they don’t hoot though this does nothing to dilute the power of ‘The Suburbs’, the title track to the new album, sung movingly by Butler in front of a slow-motion edit of Spike Jonze’s music video. He might be singing about crumbling concrete, but there’s a power to the music that will last like Scottish stone. The encore comprises a double bill of songs from first album, Funeral, ‘Neighbourhood 3 (Power Out)’ which is rough and punchy, and ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, which is sad, soaring and melodic: emotional enough to inspire one of the band to climb the stage’s scaffolding and beat a drum like a crazy invading pict.

A muted round of cannon fire provides a similar effect these calls to arms aren’t enough to get everyone ready for the fight, but there’s no shortage of enthusiasm for life, with all its hopes and dangers, pouring out from the stage. (Jonny Ensall)

INDIE-POP CULTS Nice’n’Sleazy, Glasgow, Wed 31 Aug ●●●●● When their chiming, summery debut single ‘Go Outside’ ricocheted around the blogosphere last year, then on TV ads for cider this summer, New Yorkers Cults made an immediate impression. Live, their undoubted charms proved slower to assert themselves, via a sound so quiet and insubstantial it was a wonder to think five people were required to make it. Granted, Cults aren’t a band who have people raking their pockets for earplugs. Centred around the boyfriend-girlfriend duo of vocalist Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, 60s girl groups (‘You Know What I Mean’ is practically a straight lift of The Supremes’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go’), the Spector Wall of Sound and bedsit indie-pop are this pair’s touchstones, and the careful work they’ve put into recreating live the sound of a reverb-soaked debut album was appreciable. But it came at the expense of a certain hip-shaking immediacy that ought to have been a given during ‘Abducted’ and ‘Bumper’ shimmering tunes with melodies so insistent it’s hard to believe they haven’t been snapped up already. Based on this, Cults are a band easier to admire than love. (Malcolm Jack)


The Kurt Vile tour comes with an opening act equal to the main event. New York spectral folk combo Woods are friends of Vile frontman Jeremy Earl owns Woodsist records, the label which released Vile’s first two records. It’s sublime stuff, like the luminous ‘Pushing Onlys’ from new album Sun and Shade. Earl’s ethereal falsetto is tethered to this world by visceral melodies and fuzzy guitars rooted in a pastoral folk aesthetic. Vile arrives on stage solo to perform an

endearingly ramshackle rendition of ‘Blackberry Song’ from his 2009 album Childish Prodigy. He’s not much of a raconteur but he knows how to hold a room. By the time his band join in, there’s an expectation that it could get gorgeously messy. They race through ‘Jesus Fever’ from recent album Smoke Ring for My Halo, but it’s still loose and woozy. The hypnotic ‘Ghost Town’ is like a lost Velvet Underground track heard on an old radio behind a closed door enchanting. At times the Springsteen comparisons seem insubstantial; at others the Philadelphia native’s heartland rock lineage pokes through. (Rachel Devine)


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MERCURY PRIZE WINNER PJ HARVEY Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Sun 4 Sep ●●●●● DIY POP FESTIVAL RETREAT IV Pilrig St Paul’s Church, Edinburgh, Sat 27 & Sun 28 Aug ●●●●●

Two days after this, PJ Harvey would have her second Mercury Prize in hand. While the award was an open field this year in terms of the albums submitted, the assurance and power in Harvey’s set here spoke of an artist apart from the crowd and utterly in command of her own medium. As she strode across the stage in Bonham-Carterish all-black boots, military jacket, leather corset and feather head-dress, a ripple ran through the audience, suggesting the soon-fulfilled expectation of something special. Even her band gave her a respectful berth, huddling in a corner while Harvey waited opposite, clutching her autoharp and framed by a macabre wash of dim white light. The show walked a tightrope between the

comforting and the unsettling, from hollowed-out blues of ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ to the krautrock rhythm of ‘The Glorious Land’. On ‘Pocket Knife’, singer and song came screeching from the darkness, dragging us towards her earlier, more primal folk-blues’. The set contained all of Let England Shake, although these songs didn’t so much stand out as blend in with a career-spanning selection of resonant quality. (David Pollock)

All Sunday afternoons should be like the one at Retreat DIY pop festival: tea and bacon rolls in hands, and eagleowl gently blowing our minds. Now in its fourth year, Retreat’s non-profit endeavour is run by grassroots Edinburgh promoters Tracer Trails and The Gentle Invasion. The latter is helmed by eagleowl vocalist Bart Owl (I suspect that is not his real surname; or first name) who even indulged in a spot of family- friendly censorship by reworking the line, ‘It’s so funny, how we don’t fuck anymore’ to the Mary Whitehouse-approved ‘we don’t hug’. Rob St John also provided a stand-out set on the Saturday his brooding folk, languid alt-rock and romantic silhouette conjuring Smog and Nick Drake. Other delights across the weekend-long brouhaha were The Pictish Trail’s ever-loveable arias; an unexpected techno-shredding set from FOUND; power-pop from ballboy; maniacal, Battles-toting party-rock from Lady North and a glittering, flute-fuelled folk-rock set from Two Wings. (Nicola Meighan) For a longer version of this review, see

22 Sep–20 Oct 2011 THE LIST 77