Aretha Franklin Dies
Paul Buchanan / May 28, 2006 / Glasgow (Royal Concert Hall)
"Let's get back to the moody introspective ballads -- you're not here to enjoy yourselves!" joked Paul Buchanan with typically self-effacing wit during a May 28 show in Glasgow."Let's get back to the moody introspective ballads -- you're not here to enjoy yourselves!" joked Paul Buchanan with typically self-effacing wit during a May 28 show in Glasgow.
Of course, the moody introspective ballads were exactly what the audiences who packed the Scottish capital's plush, stately concert hall three times over wanted to hear.
Indeed, as the four albums he has made with the Blue Nile testify, Buchanan has pretty much perfected the art of moody introspective balladry. That it has taken him over 20 years to produce these four albums suggests an attention to detail towards his craft that most observers would find mind-boggling. However, Blue Nile fans have learnt to be patient and stoic, knowing that good things come to those who wait.
If a new record by Buchanan is a rarity, so is the chance to see him play live. And no better place than his hometown. The vibes were good from the beginning. The singer, dressed simply in a white shirt and black trousers, knew he was, literally, among friends and good-natured banter flew back and forth between the stalls and the stage.
For all and intents and purposes this was a Blue Nile gig: keyboard player PJ Moore was the only member of the trio absent, and so it was billed as a Buchanan solo show, but the musicians -- Allan Cuthbertson on atmospheric piano and keyboards, Stuart McCredie on guitar and Liam Bradley on drums -- assembled around original band members Buchanan (guitar and vocals) and Robert Bell (bass/keys) recreated the distinctive Blue Nile sound to the note.
"I Would Never" from the 2004 album "High" opened the set, followed by the sublime romantic prayer "Happiness," from 1996's "Peace at Last," which shredded the notion that the term "white soul" must be, by definition, an oxymoron. In the absence of the gospel choir who lift their voices to heaven at the song's euphoric climax on the record, the aural epiphany was marked by racing, swirling lights painting the stage a deep shade of green.
"Over the Hillside" was quintessential Blue Nile, its subtle, scene-setting keyboards providing the perfect backdrop for Buchanan's rhapsody in blue, delivered in that quivering, vulnerable, yet immensely soulful voice. It was an added thrill to know that the streets of which he sang were all around us.
"Because of Toledo," subtly picked out on Buchanan's acoustic guitar, told of lonely cafe waitresses who could have come straight out of an Edward Hopper painting or a Raymond Carver story.
No less than four songs were aired from the Blue Nile's 1984 debut, "A Walk Across the Rooftops," including "Heatwave" and the title track, both of which contained a glorious jumble of idiosyncratic sounds, aided and abetted by the venue's pitch-perfect acoustics.
Moving up a gear, the hypnotic, insistent rhythms of "Tinseltown in the Rain" brought the audience to its feet. They also found their voice, happily engaging in a thousand-strong singalong at the chorus, egged on by Buchanan, in a rare concession to showbiz etiquette.
Then Buchanan summoned Blue Nile producer Calum Malcolm to the stage, and right on cue a suited figure emerged from the crowd, climbed up on stage, and played the mournful piano accompaniment to "Easter Parade," which he recorded two decades previously.
Buchanan also roadtested two new songs, the first of which sounded like a worthy addition to his oeuvre. The set ended with two faithful renditions from the classic "Hats" album -- "Headlights on the Parade" and, for the encore, "Downtown Light,"" before Buchanan paid homage to Ol' Blue Eyes himself with a reading of "Strangers in the Night" to close the show.
Who knows when he will be back? "I'm going to slope off and be an enigma again," he joked near the end. His audience wouldn't have it any other way.