Hammersmith Apollo, London, 26/7/2018
published: 24 /
At the Hammersmith Apollo in London Anthony Dhanendran is impressed by Del Amitri's perfectly performed 90's pop.
We’re going to get philosophical here - you weren’t expecting that in a gig review of Del Amitri, of all things, were you? - but first let’s talk about the music.
Del Amitri formed in 1983 in Glasgow when Justin Currie put an ad in a window - how things were done in those days, of course - asking for bandmates. Some big singles in the late 80s and early 90s, but - a surprise to me - they never cracked the UK top 10. After being dropped in 2002 they split up, but reformed in 2014 for tours and live albums, which is where we join them, for an all-seater gig (the audience, that is, not the band) at London’s cavernous Hammersmith Apollo.
They start with 1992’s 'Be My Downfall', from the album 'Change Everything', released the same year. All the band are arrayed at the front of the stage for this, but they assume standard positions for 'Nothing Ever Happens', which is their highest-placed chart record, having hit number 11 in 1990.
This song, a mournful lament about capitalism and the state of the world, was what drew me to Del Amitri in the early 90s, and is one of the songs I was most looking forward to hearing tonight. The performance, though, while giving the crowd its first big sing-a-long of the night, felt oddly flat, as though the band were merely going through the motions. In fairness, 'Nothing Ever Happens' was written when Currie was still in his early twenties, and it must be almost impossible to keep up the sheer anger that the song commands on record through thirty-odd years of touring and thousands of live shows.
Like many bands of the time - and it also feels like a peculiarly Scottish phenomenon, though I may be imagining that - Del Amitri were intensely political at times, as the lyrics of this song amply demonstrate, but they almost hid their politics in fairly mainstream pop-rock-blues stylings. On record, the lyrics to this song almost shock the listener as they reveal themselves against the gentle, beautiful tune. On stage, it’s harder to have that effect - especially as we all know all the words already.
The next song, 'Food For Songs', is threatening, angry and loud, as if the band heard my thoughts and wanted to refute them directly, giving the lie both to the charge of going through the motions and to the idea of gentle middle-of-the-road musical direction.
As you’d expect from such seasoned professionals, the musicianship is superb and nobody misses a beat throughout the set. After the blues anger they move effortlessly into the folky pop of 'Kiss this Thing Goodbye' with no on-stage patter, just a quick thumbs up and carry on.
Every song is enjoyable, and the crowd - thirty-somethings to sixty-somethings - are enthralled. Though there’s been no new album since 2002 there is new music on this tour, but largely it’s a case of playing, if not the hits, then a package from the band’s six studio albums.
So what, then, is the point? Is this an exercise in nostalgia, giving the fans - who now have more money than they did thirty years ago - a chance to get out of the house, shake their hips and buy some t-shirts, while keeping the band’s musical muscles toned? I don’t think so. This isn’t Five Star and Go West! doing the end-of-the-pier thing at Camber Sands or Minehead (I know neither of those places has a pier but let’s just let that slide for now).
That new song, 'You Can’t Go Back', prompts one of the few bits of stage banter from Currie: “This is a new song we’ve been doing - the bar’s that way.” It didn’t feel like it stood up well against some of the titans from the band’s earlier catalogue. But 'Wash Her Away', which Currie describes as being from the band’s “last, unloved album”, has aged very well and is a cool, driving rock and roll tune.
In some ways the key to perfect pop is to make it look effortless, and 'Always The Last to Know' is just one of those effortless perfect pop songs. It sounds just as fresh on stage here as it did on that 1992 album 'Change Everything'. As with 'Nothing Ever Happens', it’s a deceptively melodic tune, with the lyrics containing a sting in the tail as the narrator turns the focus on himself.
These guys can play, that’s not in question. And while there’s certainly a whole lot of nostalgia at play here, this is expertly performed, effortlessly crafted pop music of a kind we came to expect from those 1990's Scottish pop and rock bands. Why shouldn’t they tour it?
Have a Listen:-