El Hombre Trajeado
Glasgow post-rock alchemists El Hombre Trajeado had a cardinal influence on our music landscape. The four-piece, who called time in 2006, were at the heart of the city's 1990s DIY movement, and the band's alumni include 2013's Scottish Album of the Year Award-winner RM Hubbert, and Stevie Jones (Aidan Moffat, Sound of Yell).
They've long been praised for their shape-shifting creativity, but it's not until you see El Hombre Trajeado live again - they reunited, for one night only, for Chemikal Underground's East End Social - that you realise how physical their music was. The band's set was exhausting, and exhilarating, to watch - as it was, evidently, to perform. "We're not young any more," panted RM Hubbert, giving himself, the band and the audience, time to catch their ragged breaths.
El Hombre formed in 1995, armed with a sonic manifesto that was big on drums and bass, and down on lead instruments or characters - and those principles held fast almost two decades hence, as they revisited their three excellent albums, plus welcome surprises like 1999's Scrivener, and the B-side from their 1997 debut single, Moonunit Manual. Each member was virtuosic and transfixing, but never showy: Stevie Jones' mercurial basslines, Hubbert's vivid guitar patterns (and arcane mumbles), Ben Jones' thrilling electronics and bionic drummer Stef Sinclair's hair-raising rhythms were impeccable.
The instruments never outshone (or intruded upon) one another, as they morphed from math-rock through hardcore, jazz, funk, avant-pop - and back - and there was not a beat, nor a note, out of place. Despite the crowd's demands, they didn't play us an encore, but here's hoping they play more. There's still no-one like them.
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
It's not only the recent documentary regarding the National, Mistaken For Strangers, that connects them to the big screen. As a band the Ohio via Brooklyn outfit have now progressed to the stage where their onstage arrival was preceded by film of them leaving their dressing-room.
Thankfully they've not added a gong or costume changes yet, but the group's meticulously crafted, brooding rock loudly aimed for the heavens more than ever here. That's not always a good thing, given that the bombast of I Should Live In Salt veered towards U2-esque dramatics, while Hard To Find's slow-burning build took too long to generate any fire.
It was proficient, but revelled so much in achieving histrionic crescendos after melancholy beginnings that it became surprisingly repetitive. They weren't aided by singer Matt Berninger cutting a subdued figure early on, or by a sound mix that hampered his vocals and emphasised Bryan Devandorf's forceful drumming to the detriment of everything else. Too often it was power-flattening melancholy.
Yet the National are a resilient band, as evidenced by their slow, steady climb to fame, and they grew in stature as the night went on. Berninger's voice remains a potent asset, particularly when he sheds the control that hovers over their songs and howls against the world. Squalor Victoria was sharp, Abel's intense pace delivered a sudden jolt of adrenalin and the haunting romance of Slow Show provided a fine contrast to such rage. Berninger himself started to prowl the stage with more ferocity, while the epic England and aggressive Graceless were stirring moments. Berninger wandered into the crowd during the encore, finally achieving the visceral connection worthy of devotion, not just respect.
Ben Folds Orchestra Experience
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
BEN FOLDS is the wet T-shirt contest of classical music, so he says. The gent has brought his Ben Folds Orchestra to Glasgow, it's the last night of his tour and he's buoyant.
Playing with the Scottish Festival Orchestra, who he says he met only four hours before, Folds performs a glut of his best hits set to soaring strings, impertinent percussion and ribald brass.
While many a classical musician would sniff at a pop singer daring to turn them into a rock band, several of the lady string players are giving him cow eyes while the brass swing their hips - he's clearly doing something right. Folds, with his wet T-shirt analogy, describes himself as the lowest common denominator, drawing in crowds to concert venues and whetting their appetite sufficiently so they return for something more highbrow.
That's the bigger picture; Folds, on the night, is neither common nor low. He veers from the sublime to the ridiculous, the rowdy to the refined. His songs take very well to the orchestra setting: Stephen's Last Night in Town is blousy and brassy; Brick buit for a mournful string treatment.
Folds also gives the Scottish premier of the Ben Folds Piano Concerto; he's a man in love with an eponymous title. In three parts, the concerto sounds like the track to a film where the women wear directional fringes and smoke ironic cigarillos. It's beautiful and accessible and swarms like bees.
Breaking from the music, he uses his iPhone to play a clip of his daughter singing and of Google-translated rude phrases he's come up with.
Talented and infinitely charming, by the end of the third encore, Folds, and his metaphorical wet T-shirt, are getting the eye from one and all.