What was always billed as a triumphant hometown festival show by Meursault was given an added sense of occasion with the knowledge that it would be their last, writes Nick Mitchell
Last month Neil Pennycook announced that Meursault, the band he’d sustained through three albums and various line-ups over seven years, was coming to an end. This gig at the Queens Hall, the centrepiece of local label Song, by Toad’s Pale Imitation festival, was to be the farewell show. “Death to Meursault,” he wrote emphatically on the band’s Facebook page. At least there would be no more misspellings of their vowel-heavy nod to Camus.
Yet while ‘death’ is a deliberately over-dramatic word to use (Pennycook has already recorded the bulk of a new album, for an as-yet-untitled project), tonight still feels like a gathering of loyal friends paying their last respects. Many who had turned up to the austere former church hall would have been the same fans who attended their earliest gigs in cramped bars, who bought up their vinyl and who listened intently to their all-too-few appearances on national radio.
In truth, it’s a mystery why Meursault never hit the heights they always threatened to. Pennycook is a frontman with lungs like bellows, capable of writing songs that feel timeless from the moment they’re recorded. Perhaps there wasn’t a market for plaintive Scottish folk rock (although Frightened Rabbit haven’t done too badly), perhaps they overhauled their sound too much from one album to the next, or perhaps they just weren’t keen on playing the superficial games of the music business.
Leaving all the ‘what ifs’ for another time, tonight is about celebrating one of the finest Scottish bands of the last decade, and they do their best to extinguish any snivelling at the back with a ‘greatest hits’ show that alternates between full-fat rock’n’roll and exposed moments of brilliance. It begins in the latter vein with Pennycook arriving on stage alone to sit at an electric piano for a rendition of ‘Flittin”, which brings a new intimacy to one of their later singles – its theme of new beginnings sets the tone for the night.
Backed by the latest (and last) Meursault line-up of back-to-basics guitar-bass-drums (plus organ), Pennycook cranks up the volume for ‘The Dirt & the Roots’ and a stirring rendition of old favourite ‘Salt Part 2’, before taking evident delight in the lilting, teasing intro for ‘Settling’, which bursts into a cacophonous, chugging rock song on the defiant line, ‘so ha, FUCKing ha’.
It wouldn’t be a farewell show without a special guest or two, and the addition of Bart Owl of eagleowl and Dan Willson of Withered Hand adds a touch of good-natured inter-band squabbling to proceedings, as well as the odd comic mistake on backing vocals during ‘William Henry Miller Pt 1’.
Jesting over, ‘Dearly Distracted’ is a timely reminder of the band’s under-appreciated ability, a song of the highest order that builds to an intense crescendo that allows Pennycook and Rob St John to really cut loose on guitar. ‘Crank Resolutions’ may now be stripped of its electronics and plucked strings of old, but the almost unbearably sad, simple tale of regret – “I broke down on New Year’s Day / I mixed my drinks, and I lost my way” – is delivered with as much gusto as ever by Pennycook solo.
Having already served up their finest moments, the encore feels a little tacked-on, but there could have been a riot had Meursault failed to reappear on stage one last time. To quote their own lyrics back at them, rather than fret over “the creeping regret that you could have done better”, tonight the message is clear and heartfelt from Meursault: “So long, it’s been good to know you”. The feeling in the room is mutual.
See the full Pale Imitation line-up at paleimitationfestival.com
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