This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, April 2006.
"Welcome to the world of Arab Strap" coos Aidan Moffat with a nod and a wink following his world-weary reading of "Stink" from The Last Romance, released just days earlier in America. The intimate confines of lower Manhattan's rustic Knitting Factory, filled to the rafters with collegiate indie rockers pining for the Scottish "post-folk" ensemble's latest tales of pain and angst, provided the perfect backdrop for an evening of symphonic din and bleary visions aplenty. But don't let looks -or the music- fool you.
Arab Strap fans would be shocked to discover that Moffat, known for his bold lyrics depicting the darkest depths of fractured relationships, is actually a jolly lad in the flesh. Burly and bearded, he patiently waded through a nearly ninety minute sound-check simply to his please his partner, the equally confounding Malcolm Middleton.
In the rock tradition of Marr/ Morrissey, Ronson/Bowie, Mick/Keith, the introverted, ornery guitar genius Middleton ("Aw, he doesn't like to talk…let's have a chat after the photo session.") complimented Moffat's baritone delivery by way of spacey sound collages and linear counter-melodies throughout the early evening performance. To reflect their sixth long-player, the band's repertoire was delivered at a brisk pace. Reveals Moffat, “this album is alot more upbeat … like the dark side in Star Wars though – quicker, faster, and more seductive."
Fueled by a muscular backing band (Arab Strap is officially a duo) consisting of keyboardist/guitarist Steve Jones, bassist Michael Scanlin, and Scott Simpson on drums, Moffat, the only animated performer among the group, served as an invisible catalyst on stage, egging his mates on with waving hand gestures and frequent gulps of beer. They didn’t seem to notice!
"We don't really play the songs live before we record them so we've got that special energy: it's all fresh. Plus, we've had so many different bands, o tour is the same. This time out we based the line-up on The Last Romance which was basically two guitars and a piano. I'm very happy that we brought exceptional musicians on this trip. All we did was give them a finished copy of the album, and told 'em to learn it and we'll see you next week. It's all worked out beautifully."
After a month of rehearsal and a brief UK tour, the '06 version of Arab Strap is a well oiled machine. Ironically, the tune which grooved the most was "Don't Ask Me To Dance." Simpson's primal disco beat sliced through Middleton's wavering arpeggios and Jones' cheesy string effects whilst Moffat warbled "you're no angel from above / you’re the last girl I will…" over a center stage cadre of hip-swiveling female devotees who called out for more, more, more!
"I'm never surprised at the requests" laughs Moffat, "especially the obscurities." Case in point: "there was a song, I can't recall the title right now, that we recorded for a John Peel session years ago and I swear we've only played once or maybe twice in our lifetime. Well, a few people shouted it out last night. I can't believe the memories our fans have, though with the internet and downloading going on these days, people can get hold of anything, no matter how rare. I'm stunned."
“There Is No Ending" ventured into jangle pop as Middleton offered a warm series of chirpy Byrds-like melodies over Jones' keyboard samples which sufficiently approximated the horn arrangement found on the recorded version. "You get two extra tracks in America," notes Moffat. “That was one of them! We have ten years worth of material to choose from" the singer says with a measure of disbelief. "We do the songs that we enjoy mostly but I would love to rehearse all six albums worth of material along with all the singles and b-sides and play them all…now that would be a challenge!"