Leisure

The boy with the arab strap

By the

March 29, 2001


The best measure of a DC-area nightclub’s import, or at least its funding, is to check the size of its ad in the City Paper. Ever heard of the Luna Park Grill? It’s in Arlington, apparently, or so the ad would have you believe. I can’t verify this personally. I’ve never been there myself. But they take up a whopping one-third of one of the five columns on a City Paper page each week, reminding us, the loyal club-going crowd, that they serve Sunday brunch from 11:30 a.m to 3 p.m., with jazz, classical, and big band music. The 9:30 Club, on the other hand, being the local heavyweights, runs a full-page ad each week, and sometimes goes to two pages if they have a special event (Billy Idol’s VH1 Storytellers concert would be a good example here).

The Black Cat used to be a half-page club. I’m not sure if this means they were half as good as 9:30, and I’m sure I know legions of emaciated indie-rockers that would beat the shit out of me for even suggesting it. I don’t mean to compare the two here: their differences are well-established. A brief glance at their upcoming shows paints the picture much more clearly. 9:30 has Papa Roach next Saturday (already sold out, sorry), G. Love and Special Sauce in late April and James Brown on the night of graduation. The Cat, on the other hand, has J. Mascis (he of Dinosaur Jr. fame) and the Fog on the 9th, emo heroes Jets to Brazil on the 12th and former Pixies frontman Frank Black with the Catholics on Friday the 13th. And that week is not an exception??the month of April is looking to be one of the strongest months at the Cat in years.

And for that reason, the Black Cat is now a two-thirds of a page club. It’ll take a few more shows by co-owner Dave Grohl before the club goes a full page, but it’s nice to see that one of the best rock venues in the city is finally getting its due. Long revered in “the scene,” the Black Cat has little exposure to Georgetown students save for the annual Cabaret, which is now held in its hallowed halls. Think: you watch your friends sing and dance on the same stage that Elliott Smith, Fugazi, Pavement and Belle and Sebastian have frequented. How rock and roll is that?

This Thursday, April 5th, a lesser known but equally impressive band will take the stage, Scotland’s Arab Strap. The Strap are touring on their latest release, The Red Thread, a superb disc on ?ber-indie Matador Records. The duo, made up of lead vocalist/keyboardist Aidan Moffat and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton, arrived on the scene with 1997’s The Week Never Starts Around Here, followed by 1998’s Philophobia and 2000’s double issue, Elephant Shoe and the live disc, Mad For Sadness. With this, now their fifth album, the band has perfected a slow, meandering style, defined most easily by Moffat’s distinctively deep, slow vocals. At times, Arab Strap can sound like a very sad man with a deep voice and a Scottish accent talking over slow music. Certainly not music to exercise with.

But the lyrical poignancy of Moffat is not to be overlooked, nor should the band be lumped together with the myriad other UK sadcore bands. Instead, the Strap blend a folk mentality with some distilled electronic sounds. They’ve done remix work with Brit big beat/electronic star David Holmes. Some of their compositions can have a minimalist techno sound, while others, especially on the latest album, adopt the basslines made famous by Geoff Barrow in the mid-1990s during the height of Portishead. Arab Strap sit at the nexus of folk, indie rock and electronic music, providing a vision of the Grand Unified Theory of rock music.

They won’t come with guns a-blazin’, nor will the crowd move beyond a rhythmic head nod for much of the night. But there’s a reason that Moffat is courted by supermodels:

This guy can emote with the best of them. And while that may not be as desirable a trait as, say, Lenny Kravitz’s hair, it’s still enough to put him in a league of very few.



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