Last night I went to see del amitri at the SECC Hydro as part of their A to Z tour and the Celtic Connections Festival.
This was my first time in the Hydro. (I had previously tried to sneak into the press/SSE preview day but had been ejected.) We were near the back upstairs, to the left of the sound desk. Having seen American basketball venues on the TV this is what I imagine they look and feel like. The seat was okay almost bordering on reasonable, and a good clear view of the stage was afforded.
As with every Celtic Connections gig the opening act is good but playing to an audience which doesn’t know them and primarily isn’t there to see them, but are open to hearing something good. The o’s were good. An duo playing guitar and banjo, bass drum and tambourine. The big dish were second up playing a mix of stuff. For those who knew them it was good, for some like myself who only knew their big songs it was reasonable, but there was a nagging feeling that i was missing out on something.
(I blamed myself for the lack of knowledge of the back catalogue.)
For both support bands was a sound issue. there was a rolling bass sound which lacked definition. The first act had a bass drum which came across as a wodge of bass noise. The big dish sound guy solved the bass drum noise, but the bass guitar just providied a constant mist of bass noise, with no way to know what note was meant to be played. It was omnipresent and bore no relation to what my eyes saw the bass player appeared to be playing.
Then came del amitri. And it was good. I really enjoyed the evening and concert. The set started with “the last to know” ducked and weaved through the whole career ending on “move away jimmy blue”. Very enjoyable. find the setlist here.
After the concert a met a couple in lift, they looked about ages with ourselves. They asked if we had been at the concert. In conversation the lady expressed her disappointment with the concert particularly with the second half, she felt it had lost something. On reflection i disagree with her take on things, while agreeing with her on a couple of things.
The concert was a movement in three parts. The first part was the pop stuff, the songs off the radio and some other similar stuff, “kiss this thing goodbye”, “not where it at”. The second part was an extended acoustic part, “his side of the morning”, “nothing ever happens”, and the third part was a move to more rockier territory “roll to me”, “drunk in a band”. And it seemed that the three parts played to different audiences.
The first act was definitely an act for those with tickets on the ground floor. In general there was a divide between the ground floor and those further up. In general those on the ground floor stood for the del amitri set. It seemed they stood for the whole time, in general those upstairs sat on their seats for the entire gig. Having not been on the ground floor the music was there, but i felt a lack of engagement with me. I felt the music was great but the band were interacting with only the audience it could see(if that makes sense.)
During the second act, the acoustic based part, I turned to my wife, and said “this is has brought it together.” It seemed to calm everything down, provided interaction with the entire crowd and the band seemed to be more playful with the music. It just seemed to gel. Surpisingly for a space so big the stripped back part of the evening was both intimate and inclusive.
The third act seemed to then bypass the ground floor and saw the upper seats become more engaged. From what i could see the ground floor which before the middle act had been engaged and full of energy seemed to be lacking the energy of the first act. And the top sections seemed to become more engaged. I kniw this is particular to my experience but i think the conversation in the lift backed it up.
The other thing which would seem to chime with this would be the feelings expressed by the band themselves of there experiences at the Hydro. Inthis interview with the bbc the band talk about not knowing how to play or even wanting to really play in this size of venue, they talk about how they stole the reflective acoustic bit from neil young, and the problems of a rock sound in this particular venue. (That nightmarish nondescript bass sound, what was that all about?)
Anyway i enjoyed it. I think they managed to turn in a good show, but i think where you sat and how much you knew of the back catalogue played a bigger issue in the gig than most celtic connections events.