Bill Callahan/Alistair Roberts – Royal Festival Hall (8 February 2014)

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Ali Roberts seems to have carved himself an interesting role as head scots keeper of the tradition. Which is all well and good, but the thing is, archival and preservation are things leave to others so that we don’t have to. Yes, he’s a brilliant guitarist. Yes, his songs (mostly his own) are beautifully crafted. Yes, his voice is not too hard on the ear. And, tonight is just about enough. He manages to not outstay his welcome. I may be ready to see him again by the next time he’s back.

When Bill Callahan stopped masquerading as a band called {sm0g}, we kinda thought meant he was about to go out-and-out-tortured-artist solo. Everything would get raw. Scarier. Hah! Were that possible. Ever the contrarian, or at least cantankerous bugger, instead he literally did just make a clean break and…well, form a band.

He opens tonight with a pair of tracks of the last pseudonymous album, my favourite of his. So, he’s kind of on to a winner immediately as far as I’m concerned. Both majestic miniatures, typically contradictory. And, complete misdirection. For the rest of tonight is all bout the band.

Whereas previously there was a great element of pick-up in the line-up for live shows, recently he’s been sticking with the same players. And, this seems to be paying off. The unit on stage are tighter than a really tight thing that’s had some extra tightening, and lost the WD-40. (Yes, I am ashamed of myself.) There’s a real groovy Velvets vibe going on. Albeit Doug Yule‘s country Squeeze Velvets. Best seen on America. The surprise anthem of the solo era. Which has a cyclical stop/start thing that these guys lock onto and sound like the y could go on all night. Yet he chooses to maul the most VU moment from his back catalogue Dress Sexy At My Funeral in a fashion akin to the woeful Warren Ellis arrangement of Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry. The cantankerous old contrarian.

TBH, in my experience (pushing double figures), his gigs can be a bit hit-or-miss. Also, the Royal Festival Hall has always been a soulless cavern. However, tonight he and the band are tight as tight can be, and the ‘proper’ concert hall staffing (no entry until a break in the performance) means a proper focus to what’s going on on stage. Which becomes really gripping.

There’s a dub version of his last album Dream River called Have Fun With God. He’s either barking or having a right good laugh. Either way will do.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

09 February 2014 at 9:51 am

Posted in Gigs, London, Music

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