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Camera Obscura / Sister Vanilla / Pipas – Water Rats 23rd Septeber 2003

Oh God, Steven Wells (vitriolic campaigner against all things wibbling schmindie) would be yelping in his grave if he wasn’t still fighting fit and spitting out hilarious fiercely forged invective (although he’s been conspicuous by his absence from NME since their policy of publishing only frustratingly bland, personality-free, corporate butt-kissing, feeble-minded hackery kicked in). Tonight is the first of two cram-packed Camera Obscura gigs that have seen Track & Field’s advance ticket sales scale never-before reached heights of eagerness. Never before seen indie children have crept shyly into the midst of the usual set of familiar faces here preparing to slaver over every last shake of the tambourine made by what appears to be a gang of Glaswegian youthworkers. This is tweecore.
First on are Pipas, a boy/girl duo serving up shivering slices of fragile pop pie. Lupe sings sweetly delicate wistful songs variously clutching a keyboard or a guitar, standing pigeon toed or balancing on a stool. Partner Mark looks like a caricature someone’s done of the archetypal tweeboy - all fringe and glasses and choo choo train t-shirt. He parks himself behind a rickety table balancing his laptop, trickling out backing sounds and beats. He joins in on guitar and at one point sings a toe-curling, heart-beating song about waiting for an email that doesn’t come. Hey, even tweesongs can be moderne.
fragile pop pie
Sometimes things go a bit wrong, grins and winces passing between the pair. At any moment it feels like the whole trembling world they’re endeavouring to build could implode before our eyes, it’s making my insides squirm with embarrassment, but I’m charmed nonetheless.
Flashback to 1987, Kitten, avidly glued to Janice Long’s show, is listening to Jim and William Reid opining on les subjects du jour. In a burst of implausible sweetness, Jim announces ‘I’d like to say hello to ma wee sister Linda Reid’.
Here in 2003 Sister Vanilla is Linda Reid plus some Tompaulins and an Earl Brutus. They play fizzy, fuzzy songs written by Jim and William. Songs like the gorgeous, swooning buzz of ‘The Two of Us’ written by Jim for little sis to sing and then re-appropriated for his own band Freeheat. There’s ‘K to Be Lost’, ‘Can’t Stop The Rock’, ‘Mo Tucker’ from final neglected JAMC LP ‘Munki’ (where Sister V was first unleashed by her cackling brothers) and the winsome ‘Pastel Blue’ written by Linda herself. New song ‘California Evil’ jumps out and immediately wraps itself round your ears, like the alien in, er ‘Alien’.
yah boo sucks BRMC
Obviously, none of this is a million miles from JAMC, embracing their bubble-gum pop side (the little girls understand and all that) rather than their leather-clad riot-ripped fury. But then if someone’s going to carry on the Mary Chain legacy then it might as well be kept in the family. So yah boo sucks to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

The tweecore massive press in around us as Camera Obscura squeeze themselves onto the stage amongst keyboards and percussion instruments. Try describing this band without recourse to Belle & Seb. You can’t. Camera Obscura more or less are B&S. They play carefully constructed wordy songs of barbed sweetness. The singer/occasional guitarist/percussionist man in his buttoned up jacket is a scary Stuart Murdoch lookie-likie. The almost painfully gamin Carey (?) on keyboards is a satisfying Isobel Campbell replacement, looking by turns terrified, bored and whimsical.

Camera Obscura’s main selling point is the sublime catch-in-the-throat vocals (okay she has a cold and drops her last Strepsil on the floor) of Tracyanne Campbell. Cruelly described by an onlooker (who shall remain nameless) as looking like a women’s prison warder, Tracy hoists her acoustic under her arm and husks her way through a selection of songs old (including first single ‘Park & Ride’) and new.

keep her sparkle under wraps
The new coming from latest album ‘Underachievers Please Try Harder’. Jeez, even that title evokes ‘Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant’ and the sleeve, ace as it is, adheres to the patented B&S dressing-up box school of photography. Tracy combines the brittle with the beguiling, managing to add an edge to songs like ‘Suspended From Class’ (‘I don’t know my elbow from my arse’) and ‘Keep It Clean’ as the band jangle, tap and add the occasional parp of trumpet around her. Underneath her heavy red shirt, Tracy’s wearing a glittery lurex top, but chooses to keep its sparkle under wraps. Hmm, is this a metaphor?
break out the jingley knuckle dusters
The highlight of their studied, strummy set (everyone shuffles in appreciation) is ‘Eighties Fan’, top pop tune and erk! dead ringer for B&S’s ‘My Wandering Days Are Over’. What was Stuart Murdoch thinking when he produced it? ‘Hmm sounds oddly familiar this.’
Songs from first LP ‘Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi’ shimmy by; ‘Happy New Year’ with its swivelly lilt, cute military march ‘The Sun On His Back’, but everything’s so evenly paced, I start to drift, I’m kind of underwhelmed. This is where Camera Obscura part company from the B-word band. When we look at the photos of tonight, there’s no dynamism there; it’s hard to pick anything you’d want to show anybody. I perk up again for clappy, skippy, souly ‘Let Me Go Home’ and then realise it’s their ‘Boy With The Arab Strap’. Around me the tweekids are shaking their thang (sort of), but sorry, my thang remains unshook.

I’m kind of underwhelmed
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