Having long since sold out Oran Mor’s smaller basement venue, tonight’s proceedings have been moved to the bigger, resplendent church auditorium upstairs. As his unmistakable ceiling fresco and many murals look down on us, the late Alasdair Gray’s spirit of adventure and distinctly left-field approach to tradition is echoed wonderfully by tonight’s two Scottish performers.
Firstly, Edinburgh-based Callum Easter takes to the stage with an accordion strapped to his chest and an open suitcase by his side laden with a curious collection of vintage samplers and pedals. Rather than anything approaching the folk you’d expect from someone wielding an accordion, Easter’s sound is actually a striking, hauntingly sparse take on urban blues and soul. His accordion playing is reliant on slow, thick drones that envelope the listener in a luxurious fog, with only subtle beats and a thin bed of electronics for accompaniment. It’s genuinely cinematic, his laments of yearning and isolation feeling like an existential neo-noir unfolding before your eyes while his prickly stage presence of a dead-eyed stare and thuggish stance stops the audience in their tracks. There is next to nothing said between songs until the very end, a mysterious, ominous ramble that ends with him asking, “What to say? Everybody already knows anyway…”
In a no less captivating but certainly more upbeat manner, Anna Meredith and her motley crew of musical misfits are up next. Meredith’s journey from audacious classical composer of rare distinction to joyous noise-maker is well documented, and her ability to carve dazzling new paths in various genres has seen her become one of our most remarkable artists. Following on from the SAY-winning Varmints in 2016, last year’s Fibs is her second full-length electronica album and makes up the bulk of tonight’s set. She opens with the spiralling delirium of Sawbones and her unusual band set-up (guitarist and drummer joined by a cellist and tuba player) immediately pays dividends, Meredith orchestrating from behind her sci-fi dashboard of keys and synths a pounding, rhythmic pulse that is evident throughout so much of her best tracks.
This conjuring of club-friendly dance aided by orchestral instrumentation results in sugar-rush noise-pop of real weight and heft, the tuba blasts on songs like Nautilus offering a deep hit of bass that feels strong enough to level a building, while the set-closing Paramour races to the finish line amidst tumbling drums, stabbing cello and wild guitar soloing. Outside of the euphoric pummelling though, there are a few moments of quieter reverie as a lovely, delicate Ribbons brings a transfixed hush over the crowd but this is a rarity, with the aim of the night being infectious merriment. This is best exemplified by the encore, a demented medley of pop hits featuring everything from Daniel Bedingfield and Carly Rae Jepson to Abba’s Lay All Your Love On Me. It’s as daft and fun as you could imagine, and as good an indicator as any as to how far removed from classical music pretensions this most singular of artists is.