Saturday 25 July 2009

Soko / The Agitator/ Lulu And The Lampshades - Dingwalls, 23 July 2009

There is quirky, there is eccentric and there is completely full-on psychotic. Tonight we get a gradual progression through all three states and it isn’t a particularly comfortable journey.

Things start amiably enough with Lulu And The Lampshades, who tonight are two girls and a guy.There is an effigy of their fourth member, absent in Uganda, and lovingly fashioned out of a mop, a Hawaiian shirt and what appears to be a photograph of a sheep wearing sunglasses. Even more unusually, the missing member has picked the set list and phoned in her contributions via a series of recorded messages.

The band that are actually present pluck their way through a series of pleasant if undistinguished songs via the medium of drums, guitar and ukulele and their cheerful attitude goes a long way to cover up any deficiencies.

The next act is startling, although they completely polarise the audience. My companions hate this lot with a vengeance, but I am impressed. The Agitator is a young man whooping and hollering (Derek Meins) accompanied only by a drummer (Robert Dylan Thomas) laying down a few sparse beats. Meins channels Gospel and revivalist music to batter out a primitive and hugely emotive soul racket.

He also seems to be as deadly serious about his message, which is essentially the traditional entreaty to folk to get up off their arses, shake themselves out of complacency and actually DO something with their lives. He takes great umbrage with a member of the audience who is a bit sceptical at this.

Whatever the personal politics behind it all, it is a terrific technical performance. I have rarely seen such rage and emotion in a singer since the heyday of Cathal Coughlan declaiming for Microdisney and Fatima Mansions. The Agitator are well worth experiencing, if only because if he carries on like this Meins is going to blow a gasket.

Headliner Soko declared herself to be ‘dead’ at Christmas, so it was a surprise when this gig was suddenly announced a few weeks ago.

Soko is a French singer/songwriter who is pretty and cutesy on the surface but quite clearly a very troubled performer, who over the course of her set unravels to an unsettling degree.

What is at first amusing – constantly interrupting herself, abandoning songs, changing instruments, rambling anecdotes, saying “Fuck” a lot in a French accent, - gradually becomes a lot less so when it becomes clear that the incessant fiddling with the equipment and digressions are more than nervous tics and more akin to Attention Deficit Disorder.

When she actually plays, Soko and her hapless violinist Juliet (sadly underused and a bewildered spectator for most of the time) produce delicate, deeply personal songs, many of which have been written, at least according to their creator, within the past few days.

As the evening progresses, Soko becomes gradually darker in mood, rightfully complaining about people talking through her set, but also bursting into tears at one point. Watching her fight her demons in public is not entertainment, but uncomfortably close to a trip round Bedlam to gawp at the inmates. At this point I leave.

A very strange and upsetting end to an exceptionally weird evening.

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