sat 06/06/2020

Malcolm Middleton, The Lexington | reviews, news & interviews

Malcolm Middleton, The Lexington

Malcolm Middleton, The Lexington

Pin-sharp Scottish singer-songwriter's highly anticipated return to touring

Middleton having a Velvet Underground moment

The Scottish singer-songwriter Malcolm Middleton has always had a restless creativity, right back to his days in the Bukowskian indie duo Arab Strap. He announced a few years ago that he was sick of playing solo gigs, expected to strum an acoustic guitar and delve into his mordant back catalogue. However, after a few years rootling about with his experimental Human Don’t Be Angry project, and an album with the artist David Shrigley, he popped up this year with a new album, Summer of ’13, and for the first time in years, he’s touring.

He may be creatively restless, but as a stage presence he’s the opposite. Clad in a black short-sleeved shirt and baseball cap, he emanates stillness and a sense of humour drier than silica. He opens the gig by saying, in the most hushed tones, “Thanks for coming. I hope you enjoy it…. But if you don’t, that’s what you brought here yourself.” Around him is a three-piece band, made up of the two members of support act The Pictish Trail (whose electro-tinted indie-folk performance was worthwhile in its own right) and a noticeably virtuoso drummer, plus a load of synths.

He plays a couple more disconsolate gems, then says, 'Well, that brought the mood down'The latter are here because Summer of ’13 is Middleton’s stab at electro-pop and, indeed, the evening will see The Pictish Trail’s Johnny Lynch contributing Autotune backing vocals to proceedings. T-Pain, however, this is not. Middleton’s forté has always been writing pithy, existential songs, laced with with gloomy humour and everyday details that ground them in reality. He’s truly brilliant at it, as his opening songs demonstrate with ease.

First off is “Choir” from the 2005 album Into The Woods, with its cheery chorus, “Self-preservation threatens us all/Health deterioration comes to us all,” followed swiftly by one of the best from the new album, “Like John Lennon Said”. Both are given synthesised opulence. From there he goes where he wants, from the inde-pop bounce of “Red Travelling Socks” to the beautifully forlorn acoustica of “Love Comes In Waves (“I want you to love me as much as I love you/And you do/Then you don’t/Then you do/Then you don’t”).

“Blue Plastic Bags” is a grounded but gorgeous piece of pathos and is attacked with relish (“The whole world’s going home with blue plastic bags/Six bottles of Stella, Jacob’s Creek and twenty fags/And you know there is no shame/Because we’re all doing the same”). By the time they reach the penultimate number, “A Brighter Beat”, Middleton and his band are ready to rock out and they jam the song into squalls of enjoyable, unexpected riffage, before closing with a punked-up take on the comically bleak Christmas 2007 single "We’re All Going to Die".

After a brief pause he’s back for an encore on his acoustic guitar, opening with the new “By Proxy Song”, B-side to the recent single “You & I”. It’s a song about being an unemployable “moaning bastard miserablist” songwriter fearfully looking at the contemporary job market as the responsibilities of life creep up. He plays a couple more disconsolate gems, then says, “Well, that brought the mood down,” before bowing out with his traditional set closer, “The Devil and the Angel”, from his debut solo album.

He makes affably clear this is a duty rather than a pleasure, but still plucks the graceful guitar motif beautifully and lets the song’s desolate central joke resonate around the quiet room. It's a treat, just like the rest of the set, and it's to be hoped this master of his trade won’t leave it so long before he does the rounds again.

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