UNKLE - Glasgow ABC
Given UNKLE's history, many a punter must have been curious to see how they would tackle a live show as a "proper" band. Three main albums (plus a number of mix projects) have borne the UNKLE name, but, with the only common element being James Lavelle (a man who has also had his work cut out as a club DJ and one time Mo Wax label boss), each tugs in a different direction; Psyence Fiction with the hip/trip-hop mark of DJ Shadow, Never, Never, Land a bit more "dance" and latest effort War Stories, co-produced by Chris Goss, an unabashed rock record. And that's before you consider the array of guest vocalists that have been drafted in over UNKLE's decade-spanning career. Only the most optimisticaly deluded gig-goer, however, would be expecting an appearance from the likes of Thom Yorke, Ian Brown or Richard Ashcroft.
But before UNKLE came U.S. act Cougar (myspace) and their instrumental post-rock. You had to feel a bit sorry for them when they announced they no longer have a record label and gave the audience an address of a website where you can download some tracks for free "if you don't want to pay for our music". Awww.
UNKLE's set consisted of songs from the new album and well-chosen oldies in roughly equal measure. Live vocal duties were shared by Lavelle (in trademark dark glasses), his writing-partner Richard File and Gavin Clark of Clayhill. With the exception of Clark being Richard Ashcroft for a decent rendition of Lonely Soul, the rest of the big guest vocalist tracks used the vocals from the original recordings, seemingly magicked up by Lavelle from the back of the stage. Perhaps a wise idea in a way, and not out of step with the UNKLE aesthetic, but often one could just have easily as been listening to UNKLE very loudly at home.
Were it not for some stunning visuals, that is. Burn My Shadow and the sleazy Mayday (arguably the highlight of War Stories) were accompanied by weird projections of (I assume) Ian Astbury and The Duke Spirit's Leila Moss respectively. So kind of there, but not there. During Hold My Hand (ZZ Top meets Death In Vegas) images of cacti were used to hammer home that this is desert rock, and Rabbit In Your Headlights was accompanied by its stunning video (although, with the track being abridged, we were deprived of the killer punch line). At other times, the projection broke up into a bank of TV screens, giving a sense of impressive, if cliched, Big-Brother-is-watching-you paranoia.
And so UNKLE live often resembled a furious sound and light show rather than a gig, James Lavelle and his current troupe of not-so-merry men perhaps (like, say, Gorillaz) more a brand than a band. Still, with a double whammy encore of the aforementioned Rabbit In Your Headlights and kick-ass dance-rock hybrid Eye For An Eye, it's hard to imagine anyone left unthrilled.