Arab Strap: The Garage, Islington, London

“Best band to be named after an instrument of sado-masochistic gratification”

THERE IS A certain atmosphere that a special kind of band can generate which makes it worth day-dreaming through a thousand nights of formulaic indie sludge. This heady cocktail of caring too much and caring too little, the province of performers who can hate and love each other at the same moment, is exuded through every half-bloked pore of Falkirk quartet Arab Strap. When they take the stage, there is no way of knowing what is going to happen — whether they will scale an uncharted peak of surly pop magnificence or disgrace themselves so badly that they will never be able to speak to each other again.

Singer Aidan Moffat of the flowery shirt and faint physical resemblance to the great Neil Diamond drinks at an alarming rate from a large bottle of what looks like industrial cleaning fluid, but is actually red grape-flavoured Mad Dog. Guitarist Malcolm Middleton faces the audience at an angle and sometimes sits down at moments of high excitement. The bass-player is Arab Strap’s lone innocent — he proves this by politely refusing the suspiciously amyl nitrate-esque bottle a punter wanders onstage to waft under his nose. The drummer is a charming but dangerous malefactor who occasionally steps from behind his kit to do a rascally dance.

A year ago this week, Aidan and Malcolm were inspired by the first big weekend of their summer to write a song called ‘The First Big Weekend’. This anthem for part-time ecstasy casualties won a well-deserved Top 3 placing in John Peel’s Festive 50 (and is now, rather incongruously, the musical backdrop to a Guinness advert). The ensuing debut album, The Week Never Starts Round Here, was not so widely appreciated, despite being the most convincing British attempt to date to capture the intimate, downbeat thrill of quiet Americans such as Slint and Smog.

Arab Strap prove tonight to be the most incendiary live band in the country, interspersing caustic vignettes of romantic disillusionment with bursts of energy the like of which no British band has achieved since Joy Division. All those scrabbling around for the new punk rock should look under their noses. The title of “best band ever to be named after an instrument of sado-masochistic gratification” already belongs to Arab Strap. What happens next is entirely up to them.

© Ben ThompsonThe Independent, 19 June 1997

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