The stately surrounds of a Neoclassical palace courtyard on a warm summer’s evening might be totally at odds with the Blue Nile’s typically desolate — and often rainy — inner city soundscapes, but the fabulous location only added to the melodrama and romance inherent in the act’s music.
Having released only four albums in 25 years, the Scottish trio — augmented to a six-piece on stage — is possibly the ultimate musical enigma (in response to a heckle about their latest lengthy absence, laconic singer Paul Buchanan wryly acknowledged “I’m an enigma, I’m not supposed to come out”), but has maintained a hardcore following for its beguilingly hypnotic brand of synth-pop.
Or is it rock, or even lounge music? At one point Buchanan joked they’d “play one more ballad then it’s back to the disco stuff,” and even that assessment held water, as the pulse-heavy “Tinseltown in the Rain” and “Downtown Lights” display as keen a sense of funk as one-time art-rock contemporaries Talking Heads.
But when the music’s this good, who cares which pigeonhole it doesn’t fit. Time and again Buchanan seemed to open his soul and simultaneously touch ours — from “I Would Never” to an unlikely cover of “Strangers in the Night,” which has developed from a joke into a set-closer — while the fading sun only added to the dreamy romanticism of the occasion, as did the flocks of geese caught in the spotlight as they flew overhead.
Much of this was lost on the singer, who seemed to overcome stage fright by literally immersing himself in the music, as well as the reverentially silent audience, a combination that peaked during the stunning “Family Time,” when the only sound not coming from the stage was the yelp of a seagull overhead.
Not that singing was just for the birds. The crowd needed little encouragement to join in for an exultant chorus of “Happiness” or the call (“Do I love you?”) or response (“Yes I love you!”) of a stunning “Tinseltown,” which lost none of its magic when repeated as the final encore when the band realized it had time for one more number but hadn’t rehearsed enough material. As unlikely and enigmatic as ever, and you wouldn’t want them any other way.