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 Everett True

Camera Obscura live @ The Zoo, 22.01.10

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Camera Obscura played a few weeks back in Brisbane.

Both myself and Charlotte were excited about this one: for years now, this Scottish band have been in-car favourites, the mix of 60s harmonies and melancholy lyrics, the sweet-sweet harmonies do for us, time and time again. In the event they didn’t disappoint, despite the late hour. Tracyanne – with typical deadpan humour – announced early on that we lived in “the sweatiest city in the world”, and the crowd was oddly restrained, only coming alive towards the end, but… the remark I made at the end of the following reprinted review still holds. Oh yes.

It’s reprinted from Plan B #22, 2007.

Camera Obscura
Komedia, Brighton

“Did anyone see us last time we played Brighton eight years ago?” a clearly nervous Tracyanne asks a packed, friendly Komedia. No response. “Didn’t think so,” she dolefully continues. “There were about seven people there. I was so upset I locked myself in the toilets afterwards and cried the whole night.”

I’d been warned. “Cute pop band, but not exactly engaging on stage,” was the consensus: never mind the fact songs like the string-laced ‘Come Back Margaret’, deliciously teenage ‘Lloyd I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’ and harmony-drenched, keyboard-driven Sixties throwback ‘Tears For Affairs’ from last year’s Let’s Get Out Of This Country are my own personal pop nirvana; exquisite; delirious; sheer bedevilment and wonder for anyone reared on the tortured triumvirate of The Shangri-La’s, Orange Juice and Sophisticated Boom Boom; mystical; mysterious; upbeat and totally crushworthy; brass and primary colours and a swooning Scots female voice combining to create my favourite 2007 music to rank alongside Herman Düne and like-minds The Concretes; the stern glances masking red pulsating hearts.

The anticipation couldn’t be matched by the realisation, I was warned; no way. For a start, the band was still beset by nerves (after 11 years!). It would be like The Concretes, times a hundred: where I found myself nonplussed by Victoria’s dreamy Gothic countenance, I would be left cold by Camera Obscura’s seeming indifference to their own magic.

There’s a boy up on stage tonight, deputising on trumpet and guitar – a French boy, I believe – name of François, an experimental indie sort from Bristol who’s duetted with Ros from Lesbo Pig; young, enthused. Surely, his energy will be enough to counter any concerns? Not so. Four songs in, after an opening that contains ‘Come Back Margaret’, ‘The False Contender’ and My New Favourite Pop Single Ever ‘Tears For Affairs’ (my god, how teeth-decaying sweet are the vocals on that?), my emotions are as predicted – liking it, sure, how couldn’t I?, but rather ho hum, disappointed, concerned that the keyboardist is even more retiring than The Long Blondes’, worried at the way one of the boys on guitar looks the spit of Big John from The Exploited, worried that Tracyanne’s obvious nerves are going to get the better of this gig. She doesn’t look excited to be here, no. She looks petrified.

But then something weird happens: the band strike up a slow, drawn-out song, ‘Books Written For Girls’, quietened, gentle, the onus being on the vocals as Tracyanne lingers over her words, repeats phrases, starts carolling to herself, higher and higher. It’s an old song that I’m unfamiliar with, it’s lengthy and it’s stunning. It seems like the whole venue lets out a collective sigh: it’s OK, it’s alright, Ms T is starting to sing now, is singing now, is enjoying the power of her own voice… and listen, look, she’s regaining her confidence, her composure! The song is melancholy, bittersweet with misplaced desire and longing; abstruse, literate and unfathomable like all the best pop. It’s gorgeous, really gorgeous.

Afterwards, it’s like there’s an entirely different band on stage: launching straight into ‘Dory Previn’, the downbeat tribute to the intensely personal Sixties songstress, and then into the unstoppable, buoyant pairing of ‘Let’s Get Out Of This Country’ and ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’ (another tribute to a bygone singer, this time Eighties Scots heartthrob Lloyd Cole).

Two songs later (after a full-on bounce through the Darlene Love-esque ‘If Looks Could Kill’) comes ‘Teenager’, the song that caused my heart to leap and flutter and flitter gibbet around the basement those few short years ago as I finally understood the appeal of Camera Obscura big-time; and – whoa, wait a minute – Tracyanne is obviously enjoying herself now, inviting heckles from the crowd and giving back as good (“Sorry,” she shouts, affecting a broad Glaswegian accent, “I can’t understand you”), starting to move some, move some more. François is way overshadowed now by her sweet, chiding banter; her charismatic way round a nervous lyrical interjection; her deceptively caustic, friendly manner.

By the time the encores come around – an entirely misplaced cover of Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ wherein the band slow the song right down, treating it like a Cat Power outtake and thus denying it of all its pop charm and chutzpah and reducing it to rubble; and the ever-miraculous ‘Eighties Fan’, leaving us on a precariously volatile high – she’s bouncing on the balls of her feet, clapping her hands above her head and dancing with – well, not abandon but – love! Whoa.

Camera Obscura remain by some distance my Noughties pop crush.

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