Gigs at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh are usually seated, with the audience in rows of chairs within spitting distance (though they never do) of the performers, or in the original church pews around the outer flanks and up on the balcony. The venue is tailor-made for accomplished recitals of mature music, often playing host to singer-songwriters, chamber orchestras and jazzmen. So what to expect from Idlewild, once Scotland’s brashest, most kinetic live band, and their heirs-apparent The Twilight Sad?
For a start, the central seating has disappeared, and the audience – of an age span from teens to thirty-somethings reflecting Idlewild’s longevity – congregate at the stage-front in true rock show etiquette. Perhaps because many haven’t been exposed to The Twilight Sad’s music (yet), they offer a luke-warm but open-minded welcome to the support, who perform a five-song, half-hour slot with genuine passion and amps cranked to maximum gain.
Live, the Glasgow quartet like to deviate from debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, and singer James begins by delivering a biting a cappella intro to Cold Days From the Birdhouse. In a mate-y gesture, the Idlewild guitarists join them to further test the foundations of the historic hall with a relentless torrent of reverb. It’s a suitably exhilarating show from arguably Scotland’s most exciting band, but I can’t help thinking that their reluctance to enlist added live musicianship comes at a cost, especially on That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy, which lacked that mournful accordion. But you really can’t complain about songs with lines like “The kids are on fire in the bedroom / The cunt sits at his desk / And he’s plotting away”, which will prove to be an unlikely singalong chorus later, after one or two alcoholic beverages.
With the PA system duly warmed up, Idlewild arrive like conquering heroes to a faithful home crowd. This is a night where Roddy Woomble and band forget their plus-30, mortgage-paying adulthood and play like they’re 18 again. There’s no writhing on the floor as was Woomble’s habit of old, but there is much thrashing around and rock-star posturing, which stirs the wilder fans into a genuine moshpit for most of the gig. Favourites like When I Argue I See Shapes and Everybody Says That You’re So Fragile can’t fail to hit the mark, and the reverential audience even applauds the inevitable Warnings/Promises-era lame ducks – though these are few in a 90-minute career retrospective.
It’s all going so well; and then the unthinkable happens. The band stop playing and a female steward appears on stage to inform us of the fire alarm that has been ringing, drowned out by the music, and everyone troops outside dejectedly. Thankfully though, the fire brigade arrive promptly, do their ticky-box thing, and everyone crams back in, some racing for better positions.
If anything, this unplanned interval only inflames the atmosphere, and the tightly-packed throng at the front bounce en masse with fists in the air to tracks like Roseability and a cover of The Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated. It’s an unprecedented sight in the former church, and even Woomble looks happily dumbstruck. Stoppage time cannot be added due to licensing law so the band, now joined by members of The Twilight Sad, wrap things up by eleven thirty as required. But the sweat-soaked fans still leave satisfied, and the Queen’s Hall creaks a sigh of relief as the ungodly hordes depart.