Wounded Knee – Live at the Iso Lounge, Friday 4th November 2011

 I’ve been to some very, very good gigs recently, but this was fucking incredible. Drew (Wounded Knee) put together an evening of bands to celebrate the release, on Gerry Loves Records, of his album House Music.

He was preceded on stage by The Wee Rogue, whose hunched playing style and gentle vocals we rather lovely.  Kittens, I wasn’t so sure about, I must be honest.  They were nice to listen to, particularly in the intimate environment of this particular gig, but I am not all that sure I would feel compelled to explore further.

The intimate environment was no accident.  The Iso Lounge is a small place, upstairs from the Isobar in Leith, with plenty of sofas and a nice, relaxed feel to it.  It was formerly the home of the much missed Leith Tape Club, and on Friday it was absolutely packed, taking the term ‘intimate’ to a subtly different level to that which was perhaps intended.

To reinforce the atmosphere he wanted to create, Drew also decided to play the entire gig without any sort of electrical assistance.  No amps, no mics, no new fangled-instruments.  In fact his own set, bar a couple of songs where he used an Indian instrument called a Shruti Box (which seemed like a wee harmonium in a handbag, pretty much), was entirely unaccompanied.  There wasn’t even any sign of the signature loop pedal he generally uses to layer vocals and build what most would recognise as the Wounded Knee ‘sound’.

I know a lot of people might find that kind of thing a little over-bearing and intense – just a little too in your face for those who want to come to a gig to relax, have a pint and enjoy themselves.  In fact, even if you’d told me in advance what the gig was going to be like, I think I might have been a little sceptical too. Tell you what though, it was bloody amazing.

Picking songs at random by inviting guests to ‘have a rummage in his bawbag’ for a numbered ping-pong ball, Drew perhaps got a little lucky with the fates, because the set was the perfect combination of folky and contemporary, sentimental and amusing.  Some song were singalongs (an invitation I declined, for the sake of my own dignity and everyone’s enjoyment), some were mesmerising laments.  There was an REM cover in there, versions of The Old Main Drag and A Pair of Brown Eyes, and a good mix of traditional songs and original stuff. I don’t know if the flow of the evening was down to the luck of the balls, or just the nature of the mix of songs he made available, but whatever the reason, it worked fantastically.

It helps that the man himself is a natural compere as well, chatting naturally, amusingly and with a very Scottish sense of self-deprecation between songs.  It was a favourable crowd, of course, and the perfect place to try something like this, but I was enormously impressed at someone able to so brilliantly keep a crowd, including myself, in the palm of his hand for so long and to produce such an absolutely mesmerising performance with nothing more than his own voice with which to do it.

I have still to entirely find a way of enjoying Wounded Knee’s recorded material, I have to confess and, frustratingly, this does kind of include House Music.  Particularly after enjoying this show so much I find that fact to be both annoying and a little bit perplexing.  Nevertheless, you can make up your own minds on that one, because the Bandcamp embed will let you preview the album in its entirety.

In any case, this live show was bloody brilliant – one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

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