Andrew Montgomery / Man Without Machines / Willie Campbell –Beat Generator Live, Dundee – Tuesday 31 March 2015
I have to admit I swithered a fair bit about going to this show (writes Andy Wood). I wasn’t a huge fan of Andrew Montgomery’s previous band, Geneva, it was a long day at work and the wind was bitterly cold outside making me long for a warm house, a comfortable couch and an early night. In the end, tempted by seeing Man Without Machines again for the first time in a good long while I went out despite not knowing really what to expect.
First up was one man, an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal. This was my first encounter with Willie Campbell. His songs and performance were engaging enough and pretty pleasant. He possesses a strong voice and the loop pedal was largely used to provide some lovely textures to his songs.
One issue I have with performers using loop pedals is that they can sometimes seem rather overly-pleased with the effect they have carefully built up through layers and prolong the results unnecessarily, something Campbell addressed himself when saying, ‘I think this song is perhaps too long. I need to chop 40 seconds off it.’ Most of the songs though were pretty concise and he was well received.
Man Without Machines line-up has chopped and changed a fair bit over the last few years and as a result some of the songs have altered a fair bit in recent performances. They still pack a punchy sound which feels more electronic than earlier shows particularly with current drummer Barry Gibson’s use of a synth-drum which gives the songs a more pounding, driven feel.
Opening with ‘Even Still Even Though’ it’s pretty much a greatest hits set featuring ten of the twelve tracks from their debut album The Kreuzberg Press. I can’t help feeling that I’d love to hear new material but it’s still a great set full of catchy songs and melodies and some sharp hooklines.
Adam Lockhart even ditches his guitar for some awkward but fitting dancing and the songs flow by. They climax with a fine version of the album closer, ‘In Salt’ prompting keyboard player / bassist Michael to ask if they are doing the 7” or 12” version. It’s decided on the 12” version with Adam quipping that ‘we don’t physically have a 12” version, you’ll just have to imagine it’ before they bring things to an end with a lovely version of the song, stretching it out a little into new areas.
When I said earlier that I wasn’t a fan of Geneva I have to qualify that. I saw them several times as well as an earlier incarnation called Sunfish and enjoyed them live. At the time though I felt the records were at times a bit bombastic and overproduced. I haven’t listened to them in a while but may revisit after Andrew Montgomery and his band blew away the cobwebs out of a fair few Geneva songs and had the cobwebs blown away from my memories making me think, these songs are pretty good actually.
The live band is pretty stripped down, guitar, bass and drums with occasional adornments being provided by a laptop. Then of course, there’s that voice. After a long time out of music before returning to live performance and having released a debut solo album last year, Montgomery’s voice seems as rich and powerful as it was back in the late 90s.
Opening song ‘Temporary Wings’ sets out the stall pretty quickly. They launch into it like a band possessed with an energy and brio that suggests a hungry, young band rather than a group of seasoned musicians backing a singer with previous.
That previous is referred to early on in the second song, ‘Into The Blue’ with its soaring chorus and heavyweight hook line which has me starting to reassess Geneva a fair bit.
The set is fairly weighted between Geneva songs and solo material. ‘Sorry Someday’ from the album, Ruled By Dreams is as catchy as the former song and pretty sweet but my favourite song of the night hails from the solo album. ‘Zhivago’ is a rich, haunting noir tinged song that sticks in my head for days after. Usually I’m fairly shy and retiring but later spend some time telling live bassist and the song’s co-writer Sean McGhee how much I loved the song. To his credit he looks gently pleased rather than anxious or frightened.
Andrew Montgomery still makes me smile when he finishes singing a song in that rich, varied voice then speaks to the crowd in his broad, Scottish voice. I know I’m easily amused but the contrast is brilliant as he moves from heavenly singer to a deeper brogue.
When he sings it is astounding but never over-bearing or simply showing off. Every change of pitch or note fits the songs and their moods perfectly. The songs can rock at times as well, there’s a verve and swing to them and a fine rawness and they do nuanced and subtle as well. They seem to have an absolute blast on stage as well.
Despite the sparse crowd the audience genuinely love them and there is a lovely exchange of energy between audience and performers. The set finishes with a fantastic run of new songs and both band and audience seem pleased with how things have gone.
A fair few people, most of us who haven’t heard a note of music since Geneva split up agree that this was a great performance. A cold, weary night in Dundee has magically been transformed into something else, something warmer and of genuine beauty. A small victory in the scheme of things but a victory nonetheless. And in these times that’s a good thing.
Photo by Stuart Peck Photography