sun 07/08/2022

Lau, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Lau, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Lau, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

A five-star folk feast from the dizzyingly talented trio

Lau: O'Rourke, Green and Drever - licence to thrill

It’s all becoming a bit “water is wet“, isn’t it, saying how brilliant Lau are. But what else to do? Their name means “natural light” in Orcadian, which seems about right, except their vaulting, endlessly innovative take on contemporary chamber folk evokes every conceivable shade of darkness, too, and all the colours in between. Last night in Edinburgh they were simply extraordinary.

The trio are in the foothills of a national tour in support of their third album Race the Loser. On record Lau are never less than compelling, but live they operate at an entire other level. And it wasn't just the music: three men sitting on chairs for 100 minutes may not sound like a recipe for great drama, but somehow it turned out that way.

Every song was a moving picture, sweeping over country, town, land and sea

Token Englishman Martin Green - a kind of mini Howard Jacobson with a squeezebox and a fine line in patter - attacked his accordion, keyboards and various pieces of electronic gadgetry like a man being fed a steady dose of volts. Orcadian Kris Drever provided the still centre, anchoring the songs with his pure voice and coming up with a seemingly endless supply of beautiful, simple melodic lines on his guitar. Aidan O’Rourke and his fiddle wove fluidly as one, throwing huge flickering shadows on the old church walls. Collectively, the feeling was of some vast primal power being tapped.

The scale and depth of the music far exceeded its basic component parts. Lau take traditional forms, add a bit of clever looping and layering, and fashion it all into long, rich pieces which shuttle back and forth between towering drama and hushed calm. It was dazzlingly precise yet left plenty of room for improvised flourishes; and although the trio's playing was intuitively interlocked, it still allowed for numerous displays of individual flair.

Every song was a moving picture, sweeping over country, town, land and sea. “Torsa”, named after the tiny Scottish island close to where O’Rourke was raised, conjured the uneasy calm that descends between Atlantic storms, gulls wheeling idly overhead, before the elements slowly began to roar in. “Far From Portland” rolled out on a heavy mechanical groove, over which O’Rourke laid a searingly dramatic fiddle pattern. “Saint Monday”, full of stately sadness, evoked the bleached melancholy of abandoned places and industrial decline.

As if these dizzying displays of instrumental interplay weren't enough, Lau also played some proper, honest-to-goodness songs. “Throwing Pennies”, with its communal three-part chorus harmonies, seemed a clear candidate for the most affecting live performance of the year, until they trumped it with “Ghosts”. It's already an anthem of sorts, and Drever‘s generously understated delivery underlined the almost unbearable poignancy of the words and melody.  

The mutual joy the trio took in their playing was obvious. Towards the end they threw in a couple of covers: a pitch-perfect version of Lal Waterson’s “Midnight Feast”, on which Drever rattled off some wonderful bluesy acoustic guitar licks, and for an encore Michael Marra’s “Hermless”, a touching and timely tribute to the recently deceased Scottish singer and songwriter. It was a fitting, finely judged finale to a night when nothing jarred and not a note was out of place.

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