March 25, 2006
Review by Jake Thomas
When I walked in I realized a band was playing, but the chatter of the attendees was so loud that you could have been convinced it was just a jukebox if it wasn’t for that vibration you get from the a live performance. Outside of a few random tracks, I don’t know much of His Name Is Alive other than they are on 4AD and it seems like they’ve been around forever (according to the internet they formed in 1989, which is pretty much forever in band terms – nearly 20 years!). I can’t say that I was overly enthralled by some of the fey pop they performed, but I could hear so little of it, it was really hard to tell – might be great in a headphone setting or something. But part of the time they were rocking out, and it was quite good – in a “Stereolab gone Krautrock” kind of way. This was also the only time they were able to do battle with the asinine conversations floating around me.
I was pretty well stoked to see Arab Strap again – I saw them a number of years ago at Bottom of the Hill and it was one of my favorite shows of the year, but every time they’ve played since then I’ve been out of town or otherwise engaged and not been able to have a follow-up experience until now. It was maybe not as great as before, but first impressions are always the strongest; but it was definitely a very good performance. They played a number of tracks of their new album, which made for a much more upbeat outing than the previous gig. Or the record, the new album “The Last Romance” has a much quicker pace than their regular fare, but the lyrics are no less depressing; it’s probably my favorite thing they’ve released since “Elephant Shoe”.
Ultimately though, it all comes down to this – they played “New Birds”. Maybe they always play that song, I dunno, but it is one of the greatest songs ever to be written in my book, and hearing it live is better than getting punched in the face by a pretty girl. Hearing this song live makes the show a huge success, even if the rest of it had sucked. Which it didn’t.
After their main set, instead of the typical encore the band came back out, and by “the band” I mean the actual Arab Strap of Aidan and Malcolm, not the touring group that was assisting them earlier. They played requests from the audience in a very stripped down fashion, lots of old tracks, some obscure, shouted out by the fans that stuck around after the break. While I prefer to hear them full-touring-band style, it was a nice, enjoyable outing, and a great treat for super fans.