Review: Arab Strap at Bristol Beacon - Indie veterans thrill fans with ‘sad’ songs

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The Scottish band focussed on new material but dusted off some old favourites

Barrel-chested with a snowy white beard and the sort of cut-off denim shorts dads of a certain age might just get away with at the school gate or family barbecue - Arab Strap frontman Aidan Moffat cuts a deliciously anti-pop star figure.

And the Falkirk band’s loyal fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There can’t be many artists who have fans shouting requests for the ‘sad songs’.

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In his thick Scottish brogue, Moffat was quick to reassure the crowd at Bristol Beacon’s Lantern that there would be plenty of the band’s trademark ‘sad’ songs during their 90-minute set.

‘Our policy is no one goes home with a smile on their face,’ grinned Moffat half-way through the set, which focused primarily on fresh material from the new album, I’m Totally Fine With It Don't Give a F**k Anymore.

For indie veterans with such a vast back catalogue over the course of almost 30 years, the prospect of an evening of predominantly new material might spook some fans but Arab Strap are a rare exception.

Arab Strap perform at The Lantern in BristolArab Strap perform at The Lantern in Bristol
Arab Strap perform at The Lantern in Bristol | Mark Taylor

Since they reformed after a decade-long split to concentrate on solo projects, Moffat and co-founder Malcolm Middleton have been producing some of their best work and this mesmerising show was testament to this rebirth.

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Half spoken, half sung, these poetic songs cover the darker, seedier underbelly of life. There’s humour, yes, but also a sense of desperation and hopelessness, all of it underpinned by some beautiful musicality.

In some ways, Arab Strap are not so far apart from fellow indie stalwarts Elbow, although the grittiness of the material makes them less likely to fill arenas like their Manchester counterparts. You’re more likely to play Elbow at a dinner party.

There is, of course, still plenty of sex in Arab Strap’s songs. ‘This one’s also about shagging’ was Moffat’s deadpan introduction to Infared. He’d said the same when introducing Compersion Pt.1 earlier.

Of the new songs, Bliss, Hide Your Fires, Strawberry Moon and Dreg Queen were among the many highlights.

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When they did revisit the back catalogue, they dug deep. New Birds from 1998’s Philophobia and The Shy Retirer from 2003’s Monday at The Hug and Pint were received by older fans like precious gifts but it was a sprawling and majestic version of 1999’s Girls of Summer that took this dazzling performance to another level.

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