2020 Grammys

Camera Obscura / June 22, 2009 / Philadelphia, PA (Theatre Of The Living Arts)

Album Review
When Camera Obscura performs, as it did at Philadelphia’s Theatre of the Living Arts on Monday night, it’s hard not to notice that the band’s six members rarely smile. The Glasgow outfit tackles its catalogue of austere indie pop with focused stares plastered on its faces, rarely interacting with each other or the audience.

Yet the group’s onstage seriousness was more understandable than off-putting. Camera Obscura may write happy-go-lucky tunes about love, but it also works hard to capture those moments of whimsy, constantly honing its technical chops to pull them off. The warm rays of the music make up for any lack of stage presence, and at Monday’s show, the band’s collective precision was what stood out the most.

Released on 4AD this April, Camera Obscura’s album “My Maudlin Career” offers 11 tracks of unadulterated pop bliss, with lead singer Tracyanne Campbell spinning yarns of heartache over basic chord progressions. Campbell was front and center on Monday. With a dark red flower nestled in her hair, she lifted songs like “James” and “Let’s Get Out of This Country” with her fluttery vocals.

Camera Obscura’s songs float so seamlessly from verse to chorus that the intricacies of the music gets lost at times. When they play live, though, the different components of each track start to stand out. Kenny McKeeve’s backing vocals were just as crucial as his guitar line on “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” while Lee Thomson’s drumming made “Maudlin” standout “Honey In the Sun” an irresistible dance party. Although Campbell’s lyrics remain the band’s weak point, the audience couldn’t be bothered by a saccharine couplet while the instrumentation was making everyone happily bounce in place.

Camera Obscura is not a “deep” band, and accordingly, their live show will never be considered a profound experience. Yet when the Scottish sextet whipped out a song like new single “French Navy”, with its soaring horn section and stunning chorus, there was nary a care in the entire theater. The band records simple, fun albums, and those sentiments translate well to a live show with a devoted crowd. No matter how the band looked while performing, it was hard to find a concertgoer exiting the Camera Obscura show without a beaming smile.

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