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Book Group / Esperi – Duke’s Corner, Dundee – Friday 21st November 2014

Friday night’s Book Group show was probably the weirdest I’m likely to see them play.

Duke’s is a venue that I’ve hardly ever visited. In fact I’ve hardly ever been tempted to visit before because it’s not really a music venue as such but rather a social venue where the music is secondary.

Accordingly, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that Duke’s have booked bands that I’ve been interested in.

However, given that the room was the original Doghouse, it’s not a bad place to see live music – if you discount the clutter provided by tables either side of the main room, which bizarrely seem to be reservable. But when there’s enough folk there principally to see the band, such as at the Mirror Trap LP launch in April, it’s OK.

But when there’s only a small proportion of the audience there specifically to see the bands it becomes less attractive, not least because of the noise generated in the bar area.

Given the nature of the venue, it meant both acts soundchecked with plenty of folk in the bar. I suspect that your regular Duke’s audience is auto-programmed to applaud when there’s a gap in the music. But even assuming that is true when finishing his soundcheck Chris Marr of Esperi was actually given a rather hearty round of  applause by those in the bar who seconds earlier hadn’t appeared to be paying a jot of interest.

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Despite that encouragement, faced with a somewhat noisy audience, Chris’s decision to rely primarily on his loops rather than his gentler acoustic side looked a smart one.

It’s been some time since I saw him play but in that time he seems to have expanded his range of  unorthodox  instruments even further and now includes a small drum kit.

As a consequence the performance is something akin to watching a technician at work but the musical results were rather wonderful.

His gentle, intricate symphonies were built with painstaking care and precision. If his soothing melodies remain core to these tunes they are unquestionably enhanced by the sonic textures of the various loops (at one point almost literally bells and whistles!).

If the response Chris received at the end of the set didn’t quite match that of his soundcheck, it was still generous and deservedly so.

Book Group set about their business with a sense of purpose. But, despite their best efforts, no-one seemed engaged enough to actually stand in front of the band as those on the dance floor standing round their pals at the tables were gradually whittled down. Even a couple of guys who appeared to have taken their pews with the aim of seeing the bands had deserted their posts midway through the set.

That all changed dramatically during the penultimate song, a storming take on ‘Here Is Too Near’. A couple of lads came from the bar dancing and encouraging others to join them and so for ‘Victory Lap’ the Bookies were transformed from floor clearers to a Friday night dance band. I’ve got video evidence as proof!

If overall the audience response was mixed, musically it was a strong performance and there were a couple of new tunes thrown in for good measure.

‘Mayonnaise’ was the more immediate of the two and delivering the sort of catchy guitar pop the band excel at. In terms of impact, it reminded me of the first time I heard ‘Lowdown of a Loud Sound’. A good thing.

In the end, it wasn’t the greatest Book Group show ever, but it was good to see them play a headline show again.

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Friday’s experience left me in no doubt that I’d rather see a show where people have specifically come to see the bands.

But I can see that, from a band’s viewpoint, it’s not so clear cut. The promise of a decent pay day and the chance to play to new folk must hold appeal even if you know that a significant proportion of the “audience” will barely give you a second glance (unless of course you go marauding through the punters with a megaphone!).

And undoubtedly it must have been nice for the Bookies to see so many folk dancing spontaneously to one of their tunes. But whether the dance band factor can be translated into longer term interest must be debatable.

Book Group played:

1. Lowdown of a Loud Sound  2. The Late Show  3. Wake Up and Go Go Go  4. The Art of Underachieving  5. A Rough Wooing  6. Year of the Cat  7. Mayonnaise  8. Here Is Too Near  9. Victory Lap

More photos from the show here.

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