For one, even though the small guitar has made a comeback in recent years, it was surprising to see the ukelele played by both Alison Eales and Citizen Bravo. The former used it as her only instrument, but this made sense as it complemented the soft high tones of her voice. Eales lulling vocal style is reminiscent of Emmy the Great, and it quietly draws the listener into the bittersweet narratives of songs such as ’55 Degrees North’ and ‘Rain Song.’ She also dabbles with stand-up comedy and this too is reflected in her comfortable performance style; where not being quite able to ‘make’ a ukelele lead part is as entertaining as if she had.
Relaxed humour is never too far from the surface of Citizen Bravo’s performance style either. A one-man band, Citizen Bravo (aka Matt Brennan of Zoey Van Goey) both updates this distinctive style of music whilst also paying homage to its traditions. Like one-man bands of the past, the literal DIY aspect of his musical set-up is very evident – particularly in the old suitcase which, while retaining the function of being a case to transport his equipment, also acts as both a bass drum and a stand for his other musical paraphernalia. Moreover, Citizen Bravo also made a point of relating the story behind the case/drum/stand’s construction – a story involving a neighbour, who was a blacksmith, and the satisfaction that can be gained form building something using one’s own hands (a sentiment revisited in his closing song). Story-telling, of the humorous kind, is an important part of Citizen Bravo’s performance (Brennan was also the raconteur in Zoey Van Goey) and, in both this aspect and in the DIY equipment, there are similarities with a young Billy Bragg. Although primarily a guitarist, Bragg is also associated with the one-man band through his Portastack, a portable PA system. Perhaps as a nod to his influences, in his set Citizen Bravo also included a Bragg song (‘Love Gets Dangerous’). However, it would be misleading to highlight this as the only point of reference. Aside from the aforementioned ukelele and suitcase bass drum, Citizen Bravo also played electric guitar and keyboard through a variety of effects, and he even managed to place a snare drum into the occasional mix using his left foot. The keyboard, in particular, featured strongly on songs like ‘Edgar Wright Murder Disco’, where it provided a cheesy ‘break-down’ underlining the song’s humour, and “The Eyes of the Killer Robot” (which actually had Bravo reciting a passage from a pulp fiction book that scared him as a kid).
Finally, Chris Mills and the Distant Stars appeared as equally relaxed as the support acts and, if anything, the small audience bolstered their desire to entertain. They ripped through a longish set, featuring songs from both their new album, Elephant, and Mills’ back catalogue. Old favourites such as ‘Brand New Day’ and ‘Watch Chain’ were included alongside new album tracks ‘Wild Places’ and Rubicon. At his most alt. countryish Mills’ voice is similar to Jay Farrar’s (particularly in respect to the latter’s Son Volt output). This similarity is extended through the Distant Star’s drummer, Konrad Meissner, having also worked on Farrar’s solo albums. Given this, and the fact that bass player Ryan Hembrey, aside from being a long-time collaborator of Mills, has also a substantial track record with other alt. country outfits (including Smog and Pinetop Seven), it was not surprising that the Distant Stars were razor sharp.
It has been over five years since Mills played Glasgow with a band, and it is a shame that this gig was so poorly attended. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another five years to see him tour with a full band again.