Live Review: Arab Strap @ Sage Gateshead - 16th June 2023
Scottish indie standard bearers Arab Strap closed out their 'quiet celebration' of second album Philophobia reaching the grand old age of 25 at Sage Gateshead on June 16th.
"It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen…” are not words you often hear in Sage Gateshead, home to the UK’s only full time chamber orchestra, and proper bona-fide arts venue. But that’s how Philophobia begins, so that’s how tonight begins. Whilst Shalamar brought the Big Pop Hits to Sage One, Arab Strap brought a ‘quiet celebration’ of the 25th birthday of their second album to the somewhat more intimate confines of Sage Two. I doubt there has ever been two more different shows in the same building at the same time.
Philophobia is an oddity of an album, equal parts dark humour and soul-baring introspection. Described by songwriter Aidan Moffat as "my teenage diaries, but I was a grown man when I wrote them”, it is at times shocking in its honesty. At times even Moffat seemed to take discomfort at the words he wrote.
In keeping with the ‘quiet celebration’ as this was billed, the band is stripped back to just Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, the latter hiding under a baseball cap, almost offstage, his assured guitar work providing the perfect foil to Moffat’s half spoken songs of love, loss, lust and longing.
Arab Strap are a special band that almost defy classification, but who inspire a fervent, but typically understated fanbase. Tonight, in keeping with the all-seated venue, that fanbase sits, quietly, appreciating the performance, and this seems to throw Moffat and Middleton, but once they’re reassured that the paying public are actually enjoying themselves, they seem to relax into their groove, and the performance flows effortlessly.
The show (at least before the encore) closes the way Philophobia closes, with the depressing ode to infidelity ‘The First Time You’re Unfaithful’, with the tale of broken trust holding the audience rapt as a room full of devotees mouth every word. Quietly, of course.