Glasvegas: 2nd of December, Sala Arena, Madrid

Glasvegas - James Allan

Glasvegas – James Allan (Photo credit: Gavin Lynn)

I went to this concert with some trepidation: firstly, I was going on my own and didn’t particularly want to spend an evening in character as Johnny Nofriends; secondly, Glasvegas’ recent album, Later . . . When the TV Turns to Static, is in my opinion the weakest of their oeuvre; thirdly, I had seen the band a couple of years ago in the context of a festival and wondered if frontman James Allan‘s parading and posturing rock-god antics of that night would translate to a smaller venue (the Sala Arena holds about 1,000 people). On the latter point I needn’t have worried. James Allan surprised me by walking out on stage guitar in hand (he performed sans guitar in 2011) and proceeded to spend the rest of the concert contributing, along with his cousin lead guitarist, Rab Allan, to the bands’ wonderfully considered and subtle mix of chiming noise and decayed reverb. No fist-pumping. No throwing shapes. No delivering songs from a lying-down position or on bended knee. So that the was posing (as a friend of mine branded his Bono-esque behaviour) box unticked.

In fact, James Allan came across as a much more likeable figure this time than when I saw Glasvegas last. His in-between song banter with the audience was warm, self-depreciating and, at times, hilarious (almost as funny as the Billy Connolly sketch played before the support band came on). “I feel like a fraud,” he joked after a powerful solo version of “Flowers and Football Tops“. “I’m up here laughing at some guys coming in out of time on the chorus and the words I’m singing are about someone being six feet under.” In a way, the wisecracking between songs was necessary; Glasvegas are intense and dark. Overpowering when they’re at their best. Hell, their most famous song (“Daddy’s Gone“) is about not wanting to turn out to be a deadbeat dad. Sometimes a few lines from James are a welcome relief from the doom and gloom.

But it wasn’t that this concert, apart from James Allan’s stand-up routine, was a total and utter gloomfest. There was something celebratory and sing-along jolly about it. In the same way as when you go to see a band like the Cure and find yourself grinning like a Cheshire cat while you roar the words of a song like “100 Years” back at Robert Smith (It doesn’t matter if we all die/Ambition in the back of a black car), in the Sala Arena we sang (off time!) for the aforementioned “Flowers and Football Tops”, chorused along with “I’d Rather Be Dead” and raised the roof with “Euphoria, Take My Hand”.

Glasvegas came out with all guns blazing, beginning the concert with the strongest song on the new album — its title track. From then on it was an even mix of the old and the new. They didn’t do the dog on material from the new album (another box ticked for me!), but what they did play went down well with both me and the crowd. (Must give Later . . . another chance.)

The concert had a great dynamic, a real flow to it. Glasvegas would take us up with a sequence of their more rocking songs only to slow it all down again with a song like “Ice Cream Van“, during which you could hear the proverbial pin drop and a moment that demonstrated the band’s ability to hold a crowd in the palm of its hands. A few songs later we were moshing to “Go Square Go” and the author had forgotten his status as the Sala Arena’s only Johnny Nofriends. (Another box ticked!) In all honesty there wasn’t one rum moment in the entire concert, no toilet-break song. I observed the band in between numbers waiting for drummer Jonna’s signal with expressions of “wait till they get a load of this” on their faces. Not cockiness, but confidence. And overwhelmingly justified. Three albums into their career, Glasvegas have the material, musicianship and experience to programme the perfect journey through their heart-on-sleeve world of loneliness, heartbreak, guilt, sarcasm, nostalgia and yearning. They perform like their lives depend on it and give the feeling that they’re not just breezing through town on their way to bigger and better things. They closed proceedings with “Lots Sometimes”, which built and built until the crowd could clamour no more and we said goodbye to Glasvegas, happy that we’d seen one of the best bands on the live circuit at present and looking forward to our next chance to shine like stars.


About ucronin

Microbiologist, brewer, writer, fan of James Joyce, guitar player and gardener, U. Cronin was born in the county town of Ennis, Co. Clare. He's spent much of his adult years moving country — between Spain and Ireland — and at present he is to be found back in his native town. Author of five novels and working on a sixth, U. is back in the lab and engaging his passion for looking for bugs using very bright lasers. Let's hope it turns out well!
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