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The Winter Tradition / The Lonely Together / Book Group – Liquid Room, Edinburgh – 23rd August 2013

If there was ever a show to mark how far I’ve moved from popular music then last night’s show at the Liquid Room was it. On one hand there was my favourite live band of the moment, Book Group. On the other, two bands who seem to be pulling out all the stops to gain some form of commercial success.

First up, the wonderful Book Group. This was a significant show for them, playing for a big promoter for the first time. And despite the fact that they’ve got an E.P. out and have played a decent number of shows they were inexplicably allocated the opening graveyard slot.

Yet despite having to put up with the bugbears of the opening band (even less space on stage than they would get at Henry’s and significantly worse lighting than the other two bands) they still managed to put in a fiery display.

Recent addition to the set ‘Lowdown’ (one of their best tunes, surely) has been joined by another new one ‘Best Regards’ which might be both their angriest song to date and their most straightforward rocker. Although, as was to be demonstrated later on, straightforward by Book Group standards is not necessarily that straightforward.

Otherwise, there were a few differences from the usual (or recent) Book Group shows.

First off it was good to hear them through the Liquid Room P.A. but, let’s be honest, they’ve rarely failed to wring the desired level of intensity out of whatever set-up they’ve used in the past. I’m not sure if it was a by-product of the PA but whilst everything pretty much sounded as I would expect ‘Year of the Cat’ sounded almost Sabbath like and quite odd to these ears – although to be fair no-one else seemed to agree.

Significantly Scott was back on bass duties and even if stand-in Russell did a grand job temporarily filling his shoes it was still good to have Scott’s harmonies (and rock poses!) back on board.

In fact there was a distinct impression that the Bookies were outputting slightly little more wattage in their physical performance than normal. Even the normally reserved Michael was more animated than usual, extending even as far as contributing backing vocals on traditional set closer ‘Victory Lap’ – as far as I know for the first time.

And fittingly, ‘Victory Lap’ turned out to be an epic, even compared to previous versions. Initially it looked like Graeme’s usual megaphone walkabout might not happen as he peered uncertainly at the drop from the stage. Summoning his courage though he descended into the photographers’ pit before an extended excursion in front of the stage forcing the band to stretch the finale out to surely its longest ever duration.

And if he had difficulties getting off the stage that was nothing to getting back on, even if he did finally manage to lever himself back up in time to take the rapturous applause.

Critically, perhaps in context of this show, Book Group brought a significant crowd with them to such an early slot, better than I can imagine a lot of bands doing. Hopefully they will get a further chance in future, but on a more sympathetic bill.

Because things moved rapidly downhill with the next band. Quite what The Lonely Together had done to deserve a better slot than Book Group is unclear as this was actually their first gig but I found them unspeakably dull.

For about 5 seconds at the start I thought I might enjoy them but that brief optimism was rapidly squashed as they were earnest and utterly derivative. This is surely what Frightened Rabbit would sound like if they were ever lobotomised and drained of all their character and individuality to participate in some TV talent show – X Factor rock, if you like.

To be fair, they were undoubtedly proficient players and, given the blandness of their music, they might, just might, have a shot at some form of success given the right breaks. They certainly brought a good and enthusiastic crowd with them (and Gordon quite liked them).

But me? I may have been in the minority but I couldn’t wait for their set to end.

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The Winter Tradition

Headliners the Winter Tradition were a step up from that. Supremely confident performers they re-injected some energy into the room after it had been sucked out by the previous band. But, in their own heavy riffing manner, they were no more original than The Lonely Together.

Having heard the LP a couple of times, it was disappointing ,but probably quite telling, that I recognised none of the tunes.

Yet, had they been restricted to the same length as the other bands, I would still have quite enjoyed them, without necessarily wishing to seek out their music again.

But the final portion of the set was flabby taking them heavily into the showbiz antics of a wannabe stadium band, and concluding with a cheesy solo acoustic spot.

Bizarrely there was little reaction when the singer left the stage and we decided to call it a night at that. However I wasn’t in the slightest surprised to hear a roar from below as we reached the top of the stairs signifying presumably that the band had returned for an encore which had barely been requested – at least in our presence.

So it was an unusual evening but all it actually did was confirm that I like what I like. And what I like seems to have little to do with the mainstream.

Book Group played:

1. Summer of Lunches  2. Best Regards 3. Lowdown of a Loud Sound  4. A Rough Wooing  5. BOP  6. Year of the Cat  7. Victory Lap

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