Stag and Dagger Festival 2018 – Wire / Protomartyr / Bo Ningen / Warm Digits – The Art School, Glasgow – Sunday 6th May 2018

The lure of Wire and Protomartyr had flagged up this year’s Stag and Dagger as a possibility but the deal was only really sealed when I discovered that both were playing the same stage – which seemed to make it improbable that they’d be playing at the same time (although I’d pay to see that!).

I’d been mildly surprised to discover that there was so little on during the afternoon – but, with little of the rest of the bill meaning much, we opted to effectively treat the festival as a four band bill – which was, to be fair, still a more than reasonable return on the £25 ticket price. That meant sticking with the Art School to see Wire and Protomartyr and see what else the venue was hosting.

First up were a duo, Warm Digits, and by the lack of vocal mics, it looked likely an instrumental duo at that.

That was supported by the first tune which suggested that they were pitched somewhere between Birdhead and Public Service Broadcasting, with a ferocious live drummer bringing the energy.

So it was a surprise when there were vocals on the second song (from none other than Sarah Cracknell unless I’m mistaken) – but only taped vocals, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before live.

My sense of disappointment was somewhat assuaged when the drummer explained that their van had been broken into in Manchester so one can only assume that the band’s vocalists were kidnapped at the same time!

The rest of the set balanced the two elements – the instrumentals and the songs (with different vocalists) to good effect with ‘The Rumbel and the Tremor’ probably my favourite. An enjoyable start to the evening and the album was definitely up for grabs – particularly if it would help pay the ransoms …

Next up Bo Ningen. I’d imagined a Scando singer/songwriter called Bo with a quirky line in indie folk pop so it was a bit of a shock to be confronted with a Japanese noise band instead.

There was plenty of energy and there was undoubtedly something there but it was a surprise to hear the band announce that they had just one song left – after barely more than 15 minutes. The finale then pretty much lasted the same time as the rest of the set and was fun with the singer leaving the stage to perform much of the song on the barrier. Oh and there were about 14 false endings to the song which started to lost their appeal after the tenth …

Been meaning to track down an LP and give it a listen but haven’t managed yet. Not sure if that’s significant or not.

With no preconceptions, the opening acts had sounded fine but unfortunately that wasn’t the case with Protomartyr – the main attraction on the bill as I’d not seen them before. From the off the sound was sludgy, Joe’s vocals were buried in the mix and the dynamics of the record were all but lost, in part down to the prominence of the bass drum.

Moving back a few yards did improve the bass drum situation but the vocals remained stubbornly on the cusp, even if things marginally improved as the set progressed.

The set was frustrating as a result – mostly based round ‘Relatives’ there were only a handful of songs I’d not heard before. Highlights were probably ‘A Private Understanding’ mid set, which largely survived the murky mix, and one of the later (but earlier, if you know what I mean) tunes ‘Scum, Rise!’

But overall the show didn’t reach the heights I’d hoped for – next time perhaps.

Sound problems rather plagued Wire’s set too – in a manner reminiscent of last year’s Dundee show.

For the first couple of tunes in fact there’s something unsettling rumbling away as an undertow to the songs and I was pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be there. Again things gradually came into focus but, even if all the elements were there and were identifiable, it didn’t really gel for me until the band had almost reached the end of the set.

Not sure if stepping forward 2 or 3 yards made the difference but there was suddenly a physicality to the sound for the penultimate ‘Short Elevated Period’ and a mighty ‘Over Theirs’ which had been lacking up till that point.

The encore of ‘Used To’ and ‘Stealth of a Stork’ at least were similarly elevated but overall it was really a bit disappointing. Disappointing too that whilst there had a been a decent crowd at the start of the set, a lot of folk drifted away over the course of the next hour.

I guess that there’s always likely to be sound issues with these sorts of events but it’s hard to imagine that Wire at least hadn’t had some sort of soundcheck before the doors were opened. So whilst it was an enjoyable evening, I couldn’t help leaving with the feeling that we’d missed out on something that could have been great.

Wire setlist here (but, disappointingly, it was the same as the autumn Scottish dates minus ‘Silver/Lead’).

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