July 31, 2006

Camera Obscura @ The Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH 7/29/06


Before I tell you about the concert, I want to make one very important statement: Camera Obscura is better than Belle and Sebastian. People keep referring to them as “Belle and Sebastian Jr.”, and yes, I can understand why. They’re both Scottish, and they both play a somewhat melancholy brand of indiepop. (Another point of contention: B&S and Camera Obscura are indiepop, but they’re not twee. Your music has to be cute and occasionally happy to be twee.) So, what’s the difference? Two words: Tracyanne Campbell. Yeah, Stuart Murdoch is a good singer, but there’s just something about Tracyanne’s sultry vocals that I find more alluring.

So, yes, I think Camera Obscura is superior to Belle and Sebastian. I thought so before seeing Camera Obscura live, and I still think so after seeing them live.

Of course, they gave me no reason to change my mind.

Someone to whom I talked to right after the show put it best. They were very “tight”. And that’s a very high compliment for a six-piece (two guitarists, one bassist, a keyboardist, drummer, and a trumpeter/percussionist). Camera Obscura ran through perfect renditions of all their hits (including “Teenager”, “Suspended From Class”, “Eighties Fan”, and, getting the most applause was their latest single, “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken”), with one of the best sound mixes I’ve ever heard at a concert. (You could make out the lyrics! You can’t always do that at Cleveland shows...) Most of all, Tracyanne’s voice sounded as beautiful and endearing as it did on record. And when she talked, she had a really cute Scottish lilt, which isn’t totally apparent when she sings. The way she talks, her beautiful voice... I’m starting to develop a schoolboy crush on her. (I should be suspended from class!) Her beautiful voice just made me putty in her hands, even she used the word “douchebag”...

Wait a minute!

Why did she use the word “douchebag”?!

Well, there was an undercurrent of awkwardness at the show. Part of it was that while the show sounded almost perfect to the audience, the band apparently had problems with what they heard in the monitors. This made Tracyanne apologize for being both a “douchebag” and a “bitch” when she asked the soundman to adjust the monitors.

The most awkward part, though, was the band/audience interaction. First of all, when Camera Obscura played one quiet song (please excuse me for not remembering which song), some audience members talked loudly during the song, which distracted Tracyanne enough to make her miss one line of the song. When the band hesitated before playing another quiet song, the audience had to promise to behave before the band would feel confident enough to play it.

What was really difficult for me, however, was trying to figure out just how much I was supposed to act like I enjoyed the show. I mean, Camera Obscura is known for playing a melancholy, somewhat soft brand of indiepop. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to dance, cheer loudly between songs, or even clap along to the parts during which the band was clapping. It’s not that it was a bad show (I wasn’t saying all that good stuff about the show in the first part of this review just to be ironic), or that Camera Obscura came off as a bunch of jerks. It’s just that if you listen to one of their records, they don’t come off as the sort of band to which one would party hard. Acting happy and excited at a Camera Obscura concert doesn’t seem as ironic and inappropriate at face value as giddily bouncing up and down with your significant other at a Swans show, but it’s close.

Anyway, I want to finish by emphasizing that the music was perfect, Tracyanne’s singing was beautiful, and that you should go and see Camera Obscura if they come to your town. (They’re from Scotland, so it’s not like they’ll just tour the States every couple of months or so.) And if you do see them, could you ask them how boisterous they expect their audience to be (and tell me the answer)?

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