Sunday, January 11, 2009

Concert Review - Glasvegas

NOTE: Anyone seeking info on the Feb. 28, 2014 show by Glasvegas in Seattle, please click HERE to see my review of that gig. I also posted a review of the band's 2011 appearance in Seattle HERE

And so it was that the four-piece band Glasvegas took the stage last Saturday evening, January 10, at the Chop Suey club in a city far, far from their Scottish homeland - a very distant outpost known as Seattle, Washington. With a set of urgent and soring songs, the band delivered live on many of the promises offered in their debut album, Glasvegas.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

For indeed, most shows are more than just a performance. Rather, if done correctly, a show is really a whole evening's worth of entertainment full of sights, sounds, people watching, food, drinks, a little controversy and a few surprises. Happily, the Glasvegas show had all of that.

Therefore, for this gig I'm going to give you a review of the evening we had centered around the performance - checking in on the venue, the scene, the vibe, the performances, questions and after-gig activities.

A Cast of Characters
I did not go to the Glasvegas show alone. Oh no. A few very good friends - Sean, Michael, Brian and Paul - all with mixed musical tastes and all trusting me that the gig would be good came along for the ride. Sean, Paul and I had a great pre-gig dinner at Quinn's Pub on Pike Street a few blocks from the show venue and then made our way over there and met up with Brian and Michael.

The most important point here - and it must be said truly for the entire evening regardless of the band - was that the show offered us a chance to hang out. Each of us has busy business and personal lives and we don't get to get together as buddies as much as we used to...and when we do it is often in the context of functions with our significant others. So, this night was really made simply by the fact that it was a true return to form "boys night out."
The Venue
Chop Suey is a small place, but one with pretty good acoustics and a great place to see a band up close and personal. Security was a little tight given that a person was shot and killed outside the club a week or so earlier. That meant a pat down before going in. But, that was it. No incidents or problems.

After a stop at the bar for a round of beer, we made our way to the increasingly crowded floor and picked a spot. At the Chop Suey you literally can stand at the back of the main floor and still see the whites of the performer's eyes. Official capacity is 550 people, and that number was surely tested last Saturday - very crowded.

The Scene and the Vibe
The crowd was about 80 percent male in my estimation, and simply there for good time. A lot of dudes in black, mixed ages from 21 up to my crew's early 40s age range. The floor in front of the stage filled up fast and you had to stand your ground in the drift to keep your spot. I was impressed that there were so many people hip to Glasvegas in Seattle.

Unlike some shows I've been to, we did not encounter any posers, thugs or a-holes. There was a mildly rowdy Scottish contingent in the house to support their local heroes. Mainly, they just chanted the chorus line from one of the songs as the band took the stage.

One phenomenon that I always encounter at shows was revisited here. Namely, that even though I'm a 6ft, 1in tall guy, INVARIABLY some guy taller stands right in front of me. And of course that happened again. It's actually kinda funny. Sure, you move...but he moves. You move again...he moves in front again. Eventually, this tree of a man must have headed to the bar permanently because by the time Glasvegas came on he was gone.

As all this was going on, my friend Michael pointed out the irony in the fact that while Glasvegas were performing their song Daddy's Gone, he himself the father of three, would not be at home with his children. Ha! Too true.

Finally, our prying eyes also spied a couple celebrities. In particular, Peter Buck from R.E.M. (he lives part time in Seattle) and the lead singer of the band Harvey Danger (a Seattle-based band). So, it was kind of cool to see that some established rockers shared interest in Glasvegas.

The Opening Act
The "support" act was a very pleasant surprise. Former frontman for bands The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things, Carl Barat, played a selection of songs from both those groups...and he did so solo. No backing band, no other singers...just him and his electric guitar. Impressive and enjoyable as the crowd sang along to most of the tunes. Barat also drew my attention to a Washington state rule or law that apparently no alcohol is allowed on stage. He said this right before heading to the back of the stage for a quick chug of a beer in between songs...for which he drew a hardy cheer from the masses.

Check Barat's work out on iTunes. I don't think his solo efforts are there, but certainly records by The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things are.
The Main Event
Dressed in black, the band came on stage at about 10:30 p.m. to the roar of the crowd and the shimmery wall of guitar that is the opening to their song Flowers and Football Tops. After the opener, they worked their way through a tight set of some of their best known songs. The full set list ran as follows: Flowers and Football Tops, Lonesome Swan, It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry, Please Come Back Home, Polmont On My Mind, Geraldine, Ice Cream Van, Go Square Go, Stabbed, Daddy's Gone.

(Photo taken by Michael Croan at the Jan. 10, 2009 show at Chop Suey in Seattle)

The band's sound is a mix of 50s rock, squeeley Jesus & Mary Chain racket, 60s girl-group mellodies, Phil Spector wall-of-sound and basic straight ahead rock.

Within that matrix, singer, guitarist and frontman James Allan has impressive stage presence and charisma and delivers his songs with a great deal of passion. As he sang, the guitarists and bassist whirled around either side and behind him as he worked up a sweat delivering his lines. Allan, who lost his thick leather jacket about half way through, on several occasions connected with the audience and signaled his appreciation to individual fans and the crowd at large.

See here for a video clip of the song Geraldine from this show.
Highlights to me were Gerladine, Daddy's Gone and Polmont on My Mind because in addition to being superior songs, I felt that Allan and mates really pulled the stops out in performing them - heightening the drama and really spilling their guts out. See my post here for more on the subjects and sounds of Glasvegas from their album. Daddy's Gone and Go Square Go elicited wide participation by the crowd as Allan dropped his vocals in deference to the masses enthusiastically chanting the chorus lines to those two songs.

The much talked about light show that goes with this band was not as aggressive as I'd been led to believe by reading reviews of previous shows. Lets put it this way...I didn't need to put on my sunglasses as anticipated. Additionally, I thought the sound carried well in the small club. Sometimes bands with big-budget sound blow out a small venue and you can't hear the singer or one or more instruments. So I wondered if their big sound could come across in such a venue. The answer is...yes, it can. The mix proved clear and the volume correct. As an added ringing ears the next day.

After wrapping up their last tune just over an hour after they came on, the band were done and the show was over.

Now, this wouldn't be a true review without some criticism. While various members of our little crew offered up critiques on some elements of the performance such as over-dramatic moves or elements of the sound, the one that we all agreed on as a clear problem was the lack of an encore.

This was a disappointment not just because it would have been great to hear more songs (and the band definitely had not exhausted their inventory of tunes), but more importantly because it seemed like - as my friend Brian philosophized at the time - there was a real "rock and roll moment" at hand for this up-and-coming band that they missed paying off. He was right.

At the end of their compelling set, frontman James Allan said that the following song would be their last of the evening, thanked the crowd and then they broke into a rockin' version of their song "Daddy's Gone." Then that was it.
How cool would it have been for Glasvegas to come back on for even only one more song? They had the opportunity to seize the audience, make them fans for life and leave 'em begging for more. But instead they left the stage, the lights went up and the roadies started disassembling their gear.

Look, I enjoyed the show a lot, but the lack of the encore is a bother that lingers. Was it because they simply didn't want to play more? Were they jet lagged coming in from the east coast? Were they following direction from their management? And if it was that, why not say, "what the hell" and do it anyway? How "hungry" is this band really? These were the questions we all were asking after the gig as we sauntered over to the nearby Elysian Brewery for a post-show pint.

Meeting the Band
Beers in hand and table secured at about mostly empty Elysian, our little group sat to debate the merits of the show, talk about the lack of encore and more generally compare notes on bands and music. As we did so, my friend Michael casually said, "Oh, there's the band." Sure enough, as he spoke, each member of Glasvegas and opening man Carl Barrat filed on into the bar.

After a few minutes, I got up the courage to go say hello to James Allan and his cousin/guitarist, Rab Allan. I thanked them for the show and for putting Seattle on their list of cities to tour. Both were approachable, gracious and really nice guys. After a few seconds more chit chat, that was that. I did ask Rab Allan about why no encore? In so many words, he said that their management company had booked this as a "small venue" tour and that for those they were told no encores.

Later, Paul Donoghue, the bass player walked past our table and we corralled him for a second. Again, a very nice guy willing to spend a few minutes with fans. We asked him a few questions about touring and song writing, and then the question about no encore. Donoghue gave the same answer as Rab Allan had and in the same manner. A very sincere and almost innocent..."well, the management said that's what we were going to do."

The band's drummer, Caroline McKay, also passed by our table and we extended the same thanks to her and she too took a moment to thank us for coming to the show. So, four-for-four on the "nice people" meter for Glasvegas.

I also spoke to Carl Barat about what he was up to. Yet again, a very approachable and nice guy willing to take a few minutes in a far-away city to chat with a fan. Very cool. He said that he's kind of in between projects right now and that playing the solo support slot for Glasvegas was fun to keep his chops up. He also admitted that doing the set solo was a bit scary. NOTE: I don't recall if he used the word "scary," but that's the gist of his comment as I recall it. More power to him!

In the end, it was a thrill to meet the performers. Thank you to them. It was also re-assuring to know that each are very real and approachable people. And of course, talking with them helped to get some perspective on the encore issue. My interpretation on that subject is that: a) the band's management called the shots on how long they would play and why, b) the band was either too nice, innocent or tiered to challenge management, but c) they should have. Easy for me to say, I know. And hell, it's not my band so who the heck am I to say anything. But, I humbly think there was a chance for the band to turn an enjoyable, above average performance into a crushing, never-going-to-forget moment and that didn't happen.

In Summary
This was a very good show and I give it a thumbs up. In the end, the band were in good form, passionate, engaged and delivered a set of unique and moving music. Other than the obvious encore issue, they certainly lived up to my high expectations. And, as mentioned before, the true value in the evening was a night out with good friends.

  • Check out Glasvegas' debut album called Glasvegas.
  • See them live if you can. They come to Seattle again in April.


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