Viva Glasvegas

21 February 2008

James Garner

What has Scotland ever done for us? I mean, apart from fried food, shellsuits, methadone, the nose on the great Ian Durrant and the clap, what has Scotland ever done for us? Well, it did give us the Jesus and Mary Chain. Glasvegas concur, to the extent that many will say that they’re just ripping off the JAMC. So what? At least they’re ripping off someone good, you might think.

Glasvegas create an exciting first impression, bathing the venue in dry ice and red lights before rocking up in leather jackets and quiffs. Still, every one of these staples has been filched from the Reid brothers. They then unleash an antagonistic wall of sound from which the audience gets barely a second’s rest for the thirty minute duration. The noise is almost tangible: scratching against the walls, prickling across the ceiling, growing ever louder. The speakers barely withstand the pressure as they crackle uneasily throughout. Or is that your ears?

Set opener Flowers and Football Tops is a cracker, burning with emotion, texture and force. On this track, and their calling card Daddy’s Gone, singer James Allan comes into his own. His rich Glaswegian brogue is ideally suited to lyrics that cover roadside deaths and errant fathers with a touching humility. There’s a palpable passion in the way he rips through these tracks.

“What’s the story, morning glory?” This mindless lyric from My Own Cheating Heart jars. And then “liar, liar, pants on fire”. And another. And “this is the happy ending, when the bad guy goes down and dies.” And the whole thing begins to come apart at the seams. Doesn’t the singer look like the unfortunate progeny of Joe Strummer and Lonnie Donegan? And the band name. It’s Glasvegas. It breaks two fundamental rules of band names, being both a pun and a reference to their home town. And that’s not breaking the rules with insouciant cool but a grating gaucheness.

Glasvegas have taken so much from the JAMC that they cannot fail to have some appeal. Sadly they’ve hit upon a winning formula without really understanding it. The aesthetic they imitate should be grounded in a careless flamboyance and a wilful misanthropy. Instead Glasvegas try too hard to adopt a pose and want too much to be liked. They keep their distance from the audience with smoke and lights and lacerate them with a sonic assault but the lyrics contradict all that: they’re earnest and honest. Allan lacks the wit or subtlety needed to blend this convincingly and it becomes difficult to take Glasvegas seriously.

All in all, Glasvegas are a lot like seeing a pretty girl in the street. But just as you’re plucking up the courage to ask her the time you notice something. She’s wearing ugg boots. And a Huckabee ’08 badge. And you walk on by. You can’t fall in love with a pretty face alone and Glasvegas, despite everything they have going for them, will never be more than a brief distraction.