Hogmanay music review: The Human League / Sacred Paws / Niteworks, Waverley Bridge, Edinburgh

Winners of the 2017 Scottish Album of the Year award, Sacred Paws were a smart choice to introduce some celebratory warmth into a chill evening, their perky, panoramic sound suggestive of sunnier climes. San Diego is a typical bouncer, with deft, treble twanging guitarist Rachel Aggs and gamely propulsive drummer Eilidh Rodgers favouring close, uplifting harmonies in brief bursts while eschewing straightforward melodies, layering Afrobeat riffs over a spikily joyful post-punk insouciance. Rodgers' playing veritably snaps and bounds on Everyday, in spite of the melancholy sentiment it evokes, while Voice is pure, insistent, skittish indie-pop.

The Human League played "a well-pitched 'best of' set" at Edinburgh's Hogmanay PIC: Wullie Marr Photography
The Human League played "a well-pitched 'best of' set" at Edinburgh's Hogmanay PIC: Wullie Marr Photography

Sacred Paws / The Human League / Niteworks ****

Waverley Stage, Waverley Bridge, Edinburgh

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The moods and textual depth they call upon belies Sacred Paws’ cheerful lo-fi aesthetic. That’s in stark contrast to the Human League, whose clinical synth sheen, affectations of eighties nightlife sophistication and routinely ominous, overwrought lyrics are only offset by the familiar trio of Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley being so obviously delighted to be playing to big crowds after four decades.

Shivering through an impressive number of costume changes, the trio and their backing band delivered more than a nostalgic nod to their heyday, with Oakey’s vocal lusty through a vital, northern soul-nodding Mirror Man. That was before a solid rendition of Heart Like A Wheel, the singer acknowledging Edinburgh’s very own Eugene Reynolds and Jo Callis’ role as songwriters on plenty of their hits. Lebanon is horribly po-faced and self-important to hear in isolation, but in the midst of a well-pitched “best of” set it doesn’t truly clang, with Oakey having long ceased to take himself so seriously. Flanking him, neither Catherall or Sulley have ever possessed the most powerful or characterful voices, yet they exude presence and the League simply wouldn’t have endured without their charismatic glamour and obliging “oohs” and “aahs”.

The standout of the band’s second coming, Tell Me When, afforded a bit of nineties refinement to their obvious strengths, with the funky bassline and relatively complex vocal arrangement supplementing the appropriately ding-dong chorus as the bells approached, ahead of (Keep Feeling) Fascination getting the crowd grooving with its smoothly cultured disco. Seemingly closing with the juggernaut of Don’t You Want Me bellowed into the wind by thousands of voices, an encore followed of the sublimely daft Being Boiled and the always soaring Together In Electric Dreams.

Inheriting this feelgood legacy, electronic Celtic fusion outfit Niteworks still had the pressure of announcing the arrival of the New Year. Their eminently danceable swirls were beautifully supplemented by the ethereal soundscape they forged to accompany the fireworks, instilling a little fresh wonder into the familiar pyrotechnics.