Arab Strap – Glen Pavilion, Dunfermline – Friday 3rd September 2021
It’s a stark fact of the pandemic that one of the riskiest things I can think of doing at the moment is going to see a live show indoors.
Which certainly raised a big question about my original intention to go to see Arab Strap at their Barrowlands show – even before the recent increase in infection levels. Having decided to sell the tickets, I was offered instead a swap for the smaller (and earlier) Dunfermline show and decided to go for that. Yet it was still a big step-up in anxiety levels from the outdoor Sacred Paws show a couple of weeks ago.
Having felt pretty cautious about the whole idea to start with, I’d taken soundings on Facebook a few weeks ago and was a little surprised that the response was near unanimous – folk really didn’t want to risk indoor shows.
If I wasn’t quite as negative, there’s no doubt I’d have preferred to have built up a bit of confidence by going to smaller shows before taking on something attended by several hundred fans. But that wasn’t the way the shows fell.
So, for me, this show effectively started on the Thursday night with a negative lateral flow test. So far so good, but I still felt a little that I was sleepwalking into going. As show time approached anxiety levels were definitely on the rise even though Andy and I had agreed to aim to get in as close to the main set start time as possible to reduce our time in the room. Which meant skipping the support (Sunstinger, sorry, guys).
I’ve only seen one show at the Glen Pavilion before – Echo & the Bunnymen in April 1982. It’s fair to say the room has been given at least one upgrade since as it’s much posher than it was in the 80s. But, with more relevance for this show, the doors to the main room have been removed leaving just an archway improving airflow a bit for current circumstances. Although I very much doubt that that thought was remotely in the designer’s mind!
First impressions though were that the show might be busier than I’d have liked as folk were standing near the top of the steps into the main room. Although we managed to acquire a reasonable amount of space at the back left of the room it quickly became apparent that we were still in the main thoroughfare between the live room and the bar.
Looking around the room there did appear to be space to the right hand-side of the stage. Whilst a lot of that area was beyond the speakers, even lining ourselves up with the speakers on that side was still less busy than other parts of the room. We were also standing in front of probably roughly a quarter of the room which was taken up by the sound desk and equipment storage area. So the area behind us was lightly populated. Almost no-one was breathing over our shoulders.
Whilst first impressions suggested that there were a decent number of mask wearers in the audience, they still represented a minority of those present. What was baffling to me was to see non-drinkers standing without a mask – my understanding is that relying solely on space won’t give you a lot of protection when there’s 300 potential carriers in the room.
A partial solution to that is surely to wear a high-quality mask and the show was the first time I’d worn a FFP3 standard mask. Initial impressions were that it was pretty comfortable with no concerns over breathing.
Our timing also turned out to be pretty good – we only had to wait 10 minutes for the band to take the stage.
I’ve said before that I’m not a diehard Strap fan but this was a show I didn’t want to miss. The comeback album is terrific and still looks like album of the year material for me.
And, in person, the band were able to push Covid anxieties to the back of my mind fairly quickly.
‘The Turning of Our Bones’ was probably the stick-on for opener for the set but next up was ‘Girls of Summer’. Most bands would be delighted to have this as the set-closer so it says a lot that the Strap could deliver this early on and not hurt the show at all.
Much of the earlier part of the set was given over to songs from the current record with ‘Comus!’ another used mid-set when it could have easily been saved for the finale.
Thereafter we were largely into territory that I’m not overly familiar with other than ‘Love Detective’, which got a very belated live debut at this show.
‘Fable of the Urban Fox’ (introduced as ‘Refugees Welcome’) and ‘Tears on Tour’ were all that was left to come from ‘As Days Get Dark’.
But otherwise, my impression of this material was how critical Malcolm’s guitar is to the sound. Having largely seen him play as a front man, it was revelatory to see him concentrate his full attention on his guitar. Of course, his playing has always been there, perhaps more prominently in the HDBA material than on the solo stuff, but it was a joy to see his full range unleashed.
Aidan was surprisingly quiet for much of the set – “I’ve forgotten how to talk to an audience” but he started to find his voice towards the end.
‘Speed Date’ and ‘First Big Weekend’. were reserved for the big finish. Other than a small number of enthusiastic individuals, the audience had been surprisingly muted throughout but the ‘Weekend’ finally saw the crowd spark into life.
To close the show Aidan and Malcom dispensed with the band for the encore to run through acoustic readings of ‘Packs of Three’ and ‘The Shy Retirer’. And that was that and we were out the door as soon as we could.
In a lot of respects, the show was a fairly low key first-night-of-the-tour. Yet, it still packed quite a punch and I’ve no doubt that by the time it reaches the Barras on Friday it’ll be better still. The only slight disappointment was that I would have loved to have heard another couple of songs from ‘As Days Get Dark’. But, it would be hard to say what would have made way – at 100 minutes it was a pretty lengthy show already.
In terms of my first COVID era indoor show, it still feels really disappointing that so many people could have worn masks but chose not to.
From my own point of view I was really happy with the mask and I genuinely had almost forgotten about it by the end. I won’t hesitate to wear that type again.
In fact, by the time I got home there was even a slight elation at having seen the show. I’m not going to deny though that I’ll be anxious for a couple of days yet, until I’ve had a second negative lateral flow test. (The first on Sunday was negative).
There seems to be an awful lot on the go in the next few weeks but, even with Friday’s experience behind me, I’ll still be restricting my live outings for the foreseeable future.
Spoiler averse fans heading to the Barrowlands on Friday need not click the link to the set-list below!