Arab Strap @ Bristol Beacon– May 23rd 2024
Arab Strap @ Bristol Beacon– May 23rd 2024

Live Review: Arab Strap @ Bristol Beacon – May 23rd, 2024

When Arab Strap, the Scottish indie rock duo of Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, reunited in 2016 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album The Week Never Starts Round Here, no one, least of all the band themselves, expected it to be a lasting thing. Fortunately for us all, though, something apparently clicked. Eight years down the road from that, the band has released the second album of that reunion, their eighth overall, and it’s one of their best so far. The album’s lengthy title – I’m Totally Fine With It Don’t Give a Fuck Anymore – seems to play into the “miserablist” tag which has followed them for years, but within it is some of the most sophisticated music the pair has released. That’s not to say that Arab Strap are exactly happy, though – like many of their releases it seems to exist in the sordid underbelly of society, this time taking on weighty topics such as internet addiction, isolation in a connected world, and the negatives of social media. But also like much of their music, it seems to do so with a wink and a sly sense of humor that suggests that maybe we’re all taking it a bit too seriously (or perhaps not seriously enough).

The first leg of touring for the album took the band – Moffat and Middleton backed by a trio of musicians playing drums, keyboard, guitar, and bass – around the UK, including a stop in Bristol at the Bristol Beacon. Middleton appears to prefer staying in the shadows at the edge and out of the spotlight (playing guitar through most of the set, but taking over keyboards for the final track of the night “You’re Not There”). Moffat’s imposing figure, on the other hand, appears to dominate the stage, rocking back and forth as he speak-sings his way through lyrics often intended to provoke. With dynamics ranging from harsh electronics to light acoustics, and the occasional dance beat thrown in, it remains varied throughout. The result is a tense, powerful performance that rarely lets up on the intensity throughout its hour and a half run.

The set focused largely on the new album, with ten of twelve tracks getting played (mostly in album order), but intermixed within were a number of now classic tracks from the band’s history, including “The Shy Retirer,” “Girls of Summer,” and “Here We Go.” It also featured a trio of songs from the duo’s first reunion album As Days Get Dark, “The Turning of Our Bones,” “Compersion Pt. 1,” and “Fable of the Urban Fox.”

The reunion might have seemed improbable to begin with, but eight years and two albums into it, Arab Strap continues to push the envelope. They’re on tour through Europe over the summer months, and return to the UK for additional dates in September. Alas, no mention has been made of any North American dates (the band appeared at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017, but no further attempts to cross the Atlantic have come to pass since), but if you can get the opportunity to see them it’s well worth the effort.

PHOTOS © MATT CONDON

Arab Strap

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