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Meursault / Plastic Animals – Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh – Wednesday 13th August 2014

So that’s it then. Meursault are done and dusted. And it’s no exaggeration to say that last night’s show at the Queen’s Hall marked the end of a significant chapter in recent Scottish music history.

Over the last few years there is no doubt that the band, led by Neil Pennycook, have been one of Scotland’s most innovative and restless bands. So over the years we got uncompromising recordings (‘All Creatures Make Merry’ in particular) and we got gigs loaded with new songs.

That meant that, occasionally, I admired some work a bit more than I liked it. But, as they evolved and changed at a rapid pace, Meursault were never anything less than intriguing and, much more frequently, rather wonderful.

The nature of the show though indicated that this really is a full stop. For a band that was always looking forward, it was significant that they played “the hits” (as Neil promised MPT (and itm?) last month). As a consequence the main set featured most of the band’s singles as well as select cuts from all three LPs.

That meant that we got to hear many songs for the first times in years and it proved a revelatory experience. Simply put, if that perpetual forward motion had been slowed to just a little extent, it’s not hard to imagine Meursault crossing over to a far wider audience. Not hard at all. And yet, then, they wouldn’t have been the Meursault that we knew and loved. (The past tense is still a bit of a wrench).

So songs like ‘Flitting’ and ‘Settling’, played by a tight band who were clearly having the times of their lives, just sounded massive whilst ‘William Henry Miller Part 1’ was simply joyous.

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The SUPERMOON Comedy Club

Mid set the band were joined by guest backing vocalists for both William Henry Millers. First up was Bartholomew Owl (for Part 2) and, as Neil called him on stage, he clearly had no idea what Bart was wearing (a knee length harlequin onesy!). The look of sheer incredulity on his face when he saw Bart for the first time will stay with the audience for a long time.

The expanded band were then joined on stage by Dan Willson for ‘WHM Part 1’ with Dan apparently taking his cues from notes on a sheet of paper stuffed into his pint glass. One of which he fluffed!

Yet, even if the set was principally about the old stuff, two of the stand-outs were songs that Meursault never recorded. ‘I Will Kill Again’ was taken early on at almost Ramones speed whilst ‘New Boy’ (a song I first heard in the very same venue two years ago) sounded like the pinnacle of the ‘Something for the Weakened’ era of songs. Truly the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck for that one.

The encore illustrated both sides of the band’s nature. A heartbreaking ‘A Small Stretch of Land’ was delivered solo by Neil and his guitar before he was joined by the band for a scalding wig out of ‘Was Ist Das?’ which made the ‘Organ Grinder’ version look timid in comparison.

It’s a mark of how good the show was that, even at 90 minutes, it still felt too short. And I doubt that I’m alone in thinking that.

For a last ever gig, the amount of sadness on display was surprisingly limited. Perhaps the knowledge that Neil will continue to work with this band mitigates against grief as the predominant reaction. And that’s a good thing – this show simply didn’t need any mawkishness to make it a truly special event.

Interestingly the whole occasion seemed framed by the song lyrics  – with “We moved away” from ‘Flittin’‘ bookending the main set and ‘I Will Kill Again’ a declaration of continued intent. It was entirely appropriate too that the first line on the last song “There was a time when all this felt right” wrapped things up – even if few in the audience would agree. But, given that this was the last original song on the last Meursault record, perhaps its significance was overlooked earlier in the year.

Listening back to the three albums side by side in the wake of the show, there are two things that jump out at me. Firstly, whilst the records all unquestionably have an indefinable Meursault-ness, to the untutored ear they must sound like they were recorded by entirely different bands. And secondly despite, no, BECAUSE of their range of approaches and membership deployed, you never got the full Meursault story unless you saw the live shows. In that context last night was the final, fitting piece in an impressively complex jigsaw.

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Plastic Animals

A support slot at a show like this is something of a double edged sword. Whilst it offered Plastic Animals a decent sized audience, the truth is that it’s almost impossible for the support to make an impact in the face of the import of the occasion.

Yet Plastic Animals gave it a good shot and certainly registered with MPT. My uninformed impressions of what they sounded like beforehand (slightly messy rock band) were certainly off the mark. Instead they sounded very much like an early 90s guitar band in the Kitchens of Distinction vein. There’s something else familiar in there too but my synaptic database is refusing to make the correct connections.

Nevertheless if the maximum that can be accomplished in such a slot is to get noticed then Plastic Animals achieved that to my satisfaction.

Meursault played:

1. Flittin’(solo/piano)  2. I Will Kill Again  3. The Dirt and the Roots 4. Salt Part 2  5. Settling  6. What You Don’t Have  7. William Henry Miller (Part 2)  8. William Henry Miller (Part 1)  9. Dearly Distracted  10. Crank Resolutions  11. New Boy  12. Song for Martin Kippenberg  13. Flittin’ (band)

Encore
14. A Small Stretch of Land (solo/guitar)  15. Was Ist Das?

(Think that’s about right – had slight problems with my notes at one point!)

P.S. Given the constant references to how hard it was for people to get the Meursault name correct, I’m not sure if the spelling of “Meursalt” on the ticket was an ironic joke or simply a mistake on the part of the venue!

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