If this is what ten years apart can do for a band, then maybe more groups should try reconvening once every decade. Core Arab Strap duo Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton have changed but not beyond recognition. Far from it, they have distilled their distinctive essence – the dynamic contrast between Moffat’s funny, frank, acerbic lyrics and gruff delivery and Middleton’s downbeat soundtracks – and then polished up the display case, all the better to appreciate their individuality.
It’s not so much that the Falkirk-born duo have mellowed with age but that they have been shaped by experience so that this 20-year-old incarnation of Arab Strap was informed as much by where their solo careers have taken them as by the beefier, more expansive sound created by their current band.
Following an intro tape of the knowingly cheesy Scottish 1982 World Cup anthem I Have A Dream, that band were heard in full effect on set-opener Stink – meaty bass, powering drums and dramatic violin giving it a dystopian drive, before they powered seamlessly into the next number on a wave of post-rock guitar. You might even call it slick, not an accusation you could have levelled at the group in their late 1990s heyday.
Moffat was a naturally witty host, sharing his anxiety dreams, assessing the song Piglet as “a wee bit childish” and introducing New Birds as an uncharacteristic “song about not shagging” before shifting in to prime sonorous storytelling gear while the band whipped up a moody maelstrom around him.
In their capable hands, Girls Of Summer became a multi-part epic electronic symphony, and Scenery another sonic journey pairing potent bass with jazz-influenced piano playing from Stevie Jones and lashings of distortion, while Blood was souped up with Robert Henderson’s bluesy trumpet.
There were treats galore in the closing stages. Speed-Date, a suitably pacey party tune for dancing, was followed by their one sunny singalong There Is No Ending – popular at weddings, noted Moffat – and a slightly adapted version of their original calling card, The First Big Weekend, while the satisfying Shy Retirer and a softly soulful take on (Afternoon) Soaps enhanced the encore.
However, the stand-out line of the evening came from Confessions of a Big Brother, a song that they had not planned to play but which was plucked randomly from a ballot box of audience requests, “I hope you’ll reap the benefits of our ten years apart,” was the parting shot. Mission accomplished.