Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Scout Niblett at the Komedia

In support of her lovely new EP, which itself trails a full Albini-produced album shortly to follow, the wonderful Scout Niblett showed up in Brighton to play a set at the Komedia this week. Having really enjoyed the show I went and spoke to her afterwards and complained that I always mean to see her live, and then find that the show has sold out, or I become suddenly lazy, or something happens to prevent me doing so. So while her recordings have occupied much of my time I was never able, 'til now, to see her live.

The first thing I notice is the way she plays guitar; attention is obviously heightened because for much of the set it's the only sound you hear, intricate guitar lines echoing out around the dark space between verses, but it's almost immediately clear that her playing is tremendous. She's incredibly intuitous, knowing exactly when to emphasise a note and when to merely suggest it, and the moments where she rocks out are blissfully loud and tremendously satisfying. I'm constantly reminded of Kurt Cobain's way with a melody, but Scout picks out unpredictable guitar riffs recklessly, introducing moments of crunching drums at peak moments.

New single 'Dinosaur Egg' is a treat - the simplest of guitar lines and Scout's sweet vocals marking out the track as musically delightful, but the key here is the lyrics, written by David Shrigley. "Dinosaur egg / oh, dinosaur egg / when will you hatch?", Scout asks, "I've got a million people coming on Friday / and they expect to see a dinosaur / not an egg". Towards the end she adds on some lyrics I've not heard in previous renditions, eliciting a round of laughter from the room - I can't remember exactly what she sang, but it was something about the fact that she'd much rather be a "ball of light" than a human. Or rather, she'd like to be "a ball of light... but still have sex".

After a few brilliant songs on the guitar she puts down her first instrument and expels the drummer from his seat, taking over for a brilliant run through of 'Pom Poms', noting that "everybody needs someone to spell out their name in a little song". Shuffling through tempos and stopping and starting, she manages to conjure something illusive and remarkable from the most basic of ingredients. Switching into 'Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death' she pounds the drums and screams "we're all going to die". By the sixteenth repetition I spot some people looking around the room rather nervously.

But despite the weird, bluesy guitar lines and screamed vocals, much of the set is profoundly pretty and Scout herself is smiling and informal, chatting between songs and occasionally forgetting lyrics. At one point she takes a breather and asks us where the term 'sweating cobs' comes from. The audience looks back, bemused. "Don't you say that down South, then?", she asks, in her broad Nottingham accent, "I say it all the time". She lives in Portland, Oregon these days, so I wonder what they make of that phrase over there.

Finishing up a set which I never for a moment wanted to end, Scout played a bruising, bluesy take on 'Just Do It', which is also on the new EP, and headed out to the bar, where I grabbed a couple of moments to jabber my enthusiasm in her ear. I bought a poster which she kindly signed, although I kind of wish I'd bought a record instead.

But after forty minutes of her unpredictable, peculiar, beautiful music dancing inside my head, I wasn't really thinking straight.

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