Live at City Varieties on Monday, 19th February 2007
Malcolm Middleton cuts a strange figure onstage at the Leeds City Varieties. His is a personality that would instantly spring to mind if someone were to ask for an example of unease or embarrassment, and that's an impression made even clearer by the faded grandeur of the venue. There's an uncomfortable joke about whether "anybody's coming round with ice cream", and we're away...
Malcolm is here to support Badly Drawn Boy and his set of (ahem) Ally McBeal soundtrack style session musician jazz-lite crimes against humanity. This appears to add to his unease. Fortunately, this is a man driven by unease. And depression. And self-loathing. And every over god-awful cliché banded about by anybody who's ever written about a singer-songwriter. But the mood of his music is not those clichés. Imagine you're drunk at a party. There's some guy sat over in the corner, even more drunk than you. He's got his head in his hands, muttering under his breath about how nothing everything turns out right for him. Now imagine that, despite your better judgement, you sit and listen to the guy and become transfixed by the rhythm of his voice and the honesty and eloquence of what he's saying. And the humour - he's very funny. The stranger becomes your best friend for the evening, until he stumbles off without saying goodbye.
That's pretty much the best way I can describe Malcolm Middleton. His recorded output tends towards over-instrumentation in a badly disguised attempt to cover up the voice that he's blatantly ashamed of, and this means that his really strength is often smothered. On stage, the lack of any accompaniment, aside from some nicely simple drumming, means that his voice and his story telling are forced to the front. Sometimes, such as on the charmingly named, 'We're All Going To Die, things are a little too sparse and songs flail around aimlessly without any real backbone. Pretty much everything else is truly excellent - 'Stay Close Sit Tight' turns from an over-produced pop song in to the most incredibly tender love song, allowing the perfect timing of Malcolm's storytelling to break through. 'Fuck It, I Love You' does much the same, but with a well disguised but healthy dose of wry humour. His shy humour and utter lack of pretentiousness are what makes Malcolm Middleton so engaging. The 4am self doubt ramblings of 'Devil and the Angel' come close to bringing a tear to a crowd doing their level best to ignore him. The story of self deprecation turning in to faint hope that runs through pretty much all of his material is a well trodden path and would seem trite if it wasn't for the fact that you know he truly means it. And, incredibly, he's still laughing at himself for being insincere.