Camera Obscura. Illustration: Robin Banks
During an interview with Tracyanne Campbell last month, she tried talking down her Glaswegian indie pop heritage, though tonight, between the acts, The Pastels’ new album, Check My Heart, played in its entirety. I appreciate Camera Obscura’s independence, but clearly there’s something in their water besides the Loch Ness, and more than a wink in the eye of any Scottish band that references love and heartache.
Camera Obscura brought with them Boston’s Marissa Nadler, a gothic folk singer who’s been making affected, textured folk songs for the past decade. Nadler’s recordings are layers of haunted guitars and atmospheric sounds, much like a less frightening Chelsea Wolfe. Her voice references female folk singers of yester year, a culture from which she takes plenty of inspiration. With an acoustic 12-string at hip, she traveled through the stuff of her decade-long catalogue, proving too that Tracyanne Campbell doesn’t have a copyright on bittersweet love songs. Acoustics for quiet acts are generally terrible at Urban though, and when a performer is trying to sing over a crowd of people who’d rather pay attention to each other, they are most certainly affected. The thing was, Nadler gave a gorgeous acoustic performance of chilling dream folk, which should have earned patience and respect from the crowd. She remained soft-spoken throughout, overcoming the noise issues, that she mentioned once or twice, and confidently played a 40-minute or so set of songs, including haunting spins on both Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
After The Pastels’ interlude, Tracyanne and her crew, the longtime Camera Obscura players— Carey, Gavin, Kenny, Lee and Nigel, and a fresh-faced tambourine player, clamored on to the stage, took up their instruments, and settled into their positions. Laid out behind them was the artwork from Desire Lines, their most recent album, from which their set mostly depended upon. They began with “Do It Again” and “Break It To You Gently,” two new pop tunes that prove that they’ve still got a vitality to their songbook, a feeling that evolved with confidence as they delivered half of their newest album. The band played their tunes focused and professionally, and remained quite stoic throughout, despite Cambpell’s brief bursts of humour. The crowd was equally stoic for most of the set, (myself and friends not included—we were bouncing all over the place, smiles on our faces) despite fast-paced, unabashedly happy and bittersweet tunes, those indie pop standards “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken,” “Tears For Affairs,” “If Looks Could Kill” and then “Let’s Get Out of This Country,” (all from 2006’s album of the same name), set like gems amidst new material. They also played “Swans” off of their last album, 2009’s My Maudlin Career, and I could feel the crowd loosening up a bit. There were some bashful indie pop kids swaying gently beside themselves, likely having fallen head over heels for Campbell, who was the essence of bittersweet throughout the evening. The only song they played off their first two albums was “Teenager,” (from 2004’s Underachievers Please Try Harder) and lovely though it was, I was dreaming for more of my favourites from their early catalogue. After a great lengthy set, they finished with another classic, “Come Back Margaret,” and gracefully left the stage.
Minutes later, they came out again to the ringing of intense applause, to play “James” and “French Navy,” two of their most popular songs from Maudlin. After thanking the audience, they strummed into “Razzle Dazzle Rose,” that spectacular ending to Let’s Get Out of This Country, also a gorgeous ending to an evening with the band themselves.