When a gig opens with percussive sounds made by tapping a box of Tic Tacs on an ornate cake tin, you know it’s going to be a pretty interesting evening, writes Chris Cope.
Scottish folk trio Lau returned to Mareel on Friday night having released new album The Bell That Never Rang in May.
The record nudged the group further into experimental territory, with a gargantuan 17-minute track slap-bang in the middle of it all.
Whilst they didn’t air that particular number in full at the Lerwick show, there were a myriad of odd time signatures, technical wizardry and prodigious musicianship on show amid more traditional folk hues.
Coming off the back of a few gigs in the States, the Mareel gig felt like something of a triumphant homecoming, with Orcadian vocalist and guitarist Kris Drever now living in Shetland.
Lau are perfect purveyors of building suspense through their music, with the likes of Horizontigo gradually gaining momentum before accordionist Martin Green exploded with spider-fingered gusto, bent over and teetering dangerously on the edge of his seat.
It’s the group’s innate connection to the music they’re exuding that perhaps makes them a different, more enveloping presence live than on record.
The likes of jaunty Stephen’s saw ants-in-his-pants fiddler Aidan O’Rourke flail his limbs, whilst the minimal set-up – three men sat within speaking distance of each other in a semi-circle – gave off an intimate, session vibe.
It seemed the Shetland crowd responded more warmly when Lau delved into foot-tapping, traditional folk fare – but it was their meanderings into left-field experimentalism that digged deeper into the soul.
Green, like an eccentric musical scientist, was a constant whir of action, energetically stamping pedals with his feet to create loops of noise, or using the aforementioned cake tin to engineer percussive rhythms and quirky sounds.
An ode to a sadly threatened species, Save The Bees, was one of the night’s highlights – “they need the help,” Drever said – as it built up to a flurry of folk notes, whilst the lilting Ghosts proved to a calming antidote to the preceding whirlwind.
For the final tune – set staple Far From Portland – Green kicked things off by looping the sound of his accordion being played without any notes, like lungs softly breathing. The infectious track summed up what made this gig great; it was a concert that was clever, captivating, catchy and perhaps above all, hugely creative.
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