You’d be forgiven if you’d forgotten about Glasvegas. It certainly seems like it’s been a while since we’ve heard much from the Glasgow rock outfit.
Back in 2008, they seemed to be everywhere – poised for a major breakthrough on the strength of their Mercury Prize nominated debut. The 2011 follow-up, EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK, didn’t make a dent in the North American music sphere and was pandered by the Pitchfork tastemakers. It’s pretty safe to say that a lot of people wiped the band from memory, falling by the wayside in the constant search for the next big thing. However, LiL was very fortunate to have had a chance to catch up with the band on the Capsule Podcast prior to their gig.
It’s also been a fair bit of time since Glasvegas visited Toronto. Saturday night marked just their third visit to the city in their 11-year history and their first since 2011. But they still appear to have a strong contingency of fans here (though based on the accents in the crowd, most of them seem to be Scottish ex-pats) and The Mod Club was close to capacity.
There’s a reason why they’ve retained that base – the black-clad rockers know how to put on a show, their instrumentals strong and their songs easily filling the space. It’s the type of music you can imagine blasting out over a huge crowded field. Glasvegas are a band whose huge climactic moments are built for open-air festivals, yet not remotely out of place in dark, cramped clubs.
It was predictably the older material that received the biggest response – including massive 2008 single “Geraldine” – though that’s not to say the new material from 2013’s Later…When The TV Turns To Static didn’t go over well. The 2013 single “If” was big, relying heavily on its percussion for the heavy lifting. Drummer Jonna Löfgren also gets bonus points for endurance, playing the entire show standing up. “The World Is Yours,” from 2011’s EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK, also played well, the onslaught of instrumentals dropping out midway for a near-spoken word verse.
Much of the band’s sound comes from their frontman: vocalist and guitarist James Allan. It’s Allan’s deep voice that’s the most noticeable thing about the outfit and something they make good use of, allowing it to soar around the room on a number of choruses – including the slower, but no-less energetic, “Secret Truth.” The urgent instrumentals from guitarist Rab Allan, bassist Paul Donoghue, and drummer Löfgren were counteracted by this large, open voice. It’s a distinctive sound – both a blessing and a curse in terms of forming a back catalogue.
The problem with having such a strong voice is that a lot of the material will inevitably sound familiar. In Glasvegas’ case, his voice and their brazen rock n’ roll is less about subtlety and more about power. It’s a formula that works for their purposes, particularly in the live show, but it’s a pitfall they’re also likely well aware of.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from going to shows, it’s: don’t ever count out the power of the anthemic. “Go Square Go,” from their self-titled debut, was one song that did remarkably well with the crowd, the audience joining in for a riled up chant of “here we, here we fucking go.” It seemed almost perfect as a call to arms for the impending Olympic hockey finale the following morning – if the Scottish played hockey, that is.
A sole heckler, loudly shouting at the band between songs, quickly quashed any danger of it feeling too Canadian of a show, however. It was something Allan played off of on multiple occasions, remarking in good humour: “Before we came out tonight, we were warned that there’s a mad cunt at the front.” He later called out the drunk jeerer again, this time with a simple: “Shut the fuck up.”
His request was met on deaf ears, so Allan continued: “You must be fucking Scottish, man. Because Scottish people are always the people louder than the PA.” Given the band was probably reared in an environment of bar heckling, it makes sense they handled the situation with a smile.
“Ice Cream Van,” another from their debut, was also impressive. Organ keys rang out from Rab, accompanying his cousin’s voice as white spotlights bathed the stage and a video of lightning flashes lit up behind them. It was the type of interlude that sounded just as large as the rest of their material, giving way as the entire band kicked back in to deliver the huge, inevitable ending of cymbals and jittering guitars.
There’s a lot to like about the band – that much is clear. It’s triumphant and well suited for concerts. But what’s noticeable is that Glasvegas seem to be approaching their fists-in-the-air music with a sense of something to prove. They play well and they’re very conscious of their sound and image, but I also get the sense that their mass appeal isn’t all encompassing. It’s music that takes getting used to and I wouldn’t expect it to click for everyone. They’ve had experience with this, so they know how to try and sell it. The result is you don’t get the sense that Glasvegas get derailed very easily – everything they do seems so meticulously planned.
Thanks to Live Nation for media access.