Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh
“I’d like to welcome to the stage, Mike Heron and Samuel Beckett,” says Alex Neilson following a lull after the ever restless drummer introduced the now seventy-something former Incredible String Band icon as his special guest for the final song of a generation and genre spanning night. Named with a nod to Greek tragedy, Neilson’s latest incarnation casts himself as king, sporting a skeleton t-shirt while sat behind his drum-kit throne to declaim what he styles as ‘songs of love, loss and loathing’.
By this time, a stripped-down Storm the Palace has opened the night with a magnificent fusion of Sophie Dodds’ flying-V guitar and Reuben Taylor’s accordion, with Dodds’ vocal at times resembling Dagmar Krause at her Brechtian best. This is followed by surprise guest, Aidan O’Rourke, from Lau, who gives what is quite possibly the first ever solo fiddle rendition of traditional folk tunes to grace the Sneaky Pete’s stage. O’Rourke calls upon Neilson to read James Robertson’s 365-word short story, The Room is in Darkness, accompanying him with a cracked underscore.
This sets the tone for the arcane-sounding chorale that opens Alex Rex’s set, which, with guitarist Rory Haye, bass player Audrey Bizouerne and keyboardist Georgia Seddon in tow, mines the spirit of Desire era Bob Dylan and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. Like both of his forebears, the tumble of Neilson’s lyrics possess an uncensored candour delivered with gallows humour beyond the life-and-death gravity of some of his subjects. This year’s second Alex Rex album, Otterburn, after all, focuses on the premature death of Neilson’s brother.
Despite this, Neilson wisecracks away between the likes of The Life of a Wave and Please God Make Me Good (But Not Now), from the band’s debut, Vermillion, and the gospel-tinged Latest Regret, from Otterburn. Occasional guitar wig-outs by Bizouerne are pulsed by the busy thwack of Neilson’s drums before things take a gothic turn, and Heron eventually makes it to the stage alongside fiddler John Wilson for a rousing massed finale to a rolling thunder revue in waiting.
The Herald, November 20th 2019