Normally gig reviews start with a long story about the bands and who’s in them and what bands they were in before and all that David Copperfield kind of crap. As time is short however this is going to be a bit more impressionistic, and link you to the bands’ sites so you can go and have a listen. And you should go and have a listen to all of them.
I suppose I should have started with a declaration of interest: Mike Melville and Andy Wood, the keepers of the Cool Cat Club, are known to me, in that Mike is a close colleague and Andy has played at the one and only gig I’ve ever (so far) put on. Your only comfort that this isn’t an old pals act is for me to say that, as I type, I am surrounded by guitars, keyboard and recording stuff, leaning in and calling on me to play: so if I hadn’t really, really, liked the gig, this wouldn’t have got written.
First then, the name. The Cool Cat Club has a pleasing alliterative monosyllabism that conjures a picture of leaving a joint in one of the major Western cities at 3 am, perhaps one more bourbon to the wind than was wise, after a night in a club where membership is based on the tilt of one’s trilby, and the jazz is so cool sometimes the saxophone plays all by itself, squeaking and grunting mid-air in unseen hands, while the musicians repair to the bar for a restorative absinthe.
The reality, four indie acts in a somewhat sweaty upstairs venue in Dundee not far off the backside of the Overgate Centre, was different, but no less fine for all that. As the night went on, the place filled to pretty much capacity, creating a truly excellent atmosphere.
Indie gig audiences are often complex, multi-layered affairs, and this one was no exception: at the back, middle agers like your reviewer, with teenage children in tow (or perhaps they were towing us); down the front, a twenty-something crowd, many of whom were increasingly intent on celebrating the birthday of a girl called Vicky.
People were still filing in when the first act, Luna Webster, came on, so she had the unenviable task of engaging an audience distracted by the buying of drinks and meeting of mates, armed only with an acoustic guitar. That she did so is testament to her strong, distinctive singing voice and some really good songwriting. It would sound patronising to mention her age so I won’t, but this is a young, young talent that is well worth watching.
Next up were Randolph’s Leap. I had heard good things about these guys and no –one had been exaggerating. The lyrics are literate, quirky and well-observed, and the sound is … well it’s a Randolph’s Leap kind of a sound. They describe themselves as folk-pop, but if that conjures up some sort of pale Mumford & Sons knock-off be prepared to have your socks knocked off, for this folk band has a brass section and it isn’t afraid to use it.
The line up on the night comprised acoustic guitar, bass guitar, violin, keyboards, trombone, trumpet, and drums. The resultant noise was exceedingly pleasant, and what also really worked was their ability on occasion to strip things back to something simpler. Adam, the front man, has an engaging, gangly presence, reminiscent of Andy Murray with added personality.
Highlights included News and another song I didn’t catch the title of but involved weathermen. If Randolph’s Leap aren’t suitably humungous by this time next year, well up the batting order at festival line ups, appearing on Jools Holland and making plans to break the States, I’ll eat my hat – the leather one. To paraphrase Jon Landau, I have seen the future of indie-folk-pop-with-a-brass-section, and its name is Randolph’s Leap.
The confusingly-titled (in that they are not all men, and some were definitely using machines) Man Without Machines were next up, describing themselves on their Facebook site as ‘pacey electro-pop,’ and living up to that promise with some great, driven tunes where the guitars and keyboards that make up their sound meshed perfectly. This was a tight, tight musical unit, and if they suffered slightly for this reviewer in comparison to the bands before and after them, that’s probably more down to personal taste than anything else.
Certainly their lead singer and guitarist came across as engaging, although he perhaps engaged too much with Vicky’s birthday party in his banter for his own sanity. However, it was all good clean fun and nobody lost an eye.
Closing the night in assured fashion was Kid Canaveral. Previous experience of them a couple of years ago had suggested they were pretty great, and this time they were possibly even a little bit greater. This is a band that has so much going for it: catchy melodies, charismatic front man, moody and magnificent female guitarist, and a solid bass and drums unit that ties everything together.
By now the front row of the scrum was getting pretty excitable, but lead singer/guitarist David MacGregor showed his performance chops by keeping them onside, while leading the band into some superb moments. Amidst the barnstorming set there was time for some quieter moments (some of which to me might have called for an acoustic guitar, but that again may come from personal preference) as well as some excellent harmony backing singing from the girls which might well be a growth area for the future.
One tiny discordant note to finish a review of such a great night, but some of us middle-agers up the back would have preferred the DJ to dial down the volume on his between-band interludes (nothing wrong with his musical taste, mind). But I’m reliably informed that may just be our age.
Great night, great acts, and kudos to the sound man for working the desk so that everyone could give of their best. Well done, Mike and Andy, and I hope to tilt my trilby at another visit to the Cool Cat Club soon.