REVIEW: Amy Macdonald
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by Margaret Chrystall
IT’S hard to say what really went wrong at Amy Macdonald’s sellout show at the Ironworks – but a night at the Paint Dryin’ Convention would have had more thrills.
Probably both Amy and her usually-adoring crowd are equally to blame for a night that failed to catch fire.
Early on, Amy – now no longer the precocious teen Scottish songstress but a feisty tattoo-sleeved rock chick – had touched on the challenges of slogging through to the end of a tour. Inverness was the second last date of that.
"Good evening, Inverness, it’s a pleasure to be here tonight. We’ve been on tour for six or seven weeks and this is the penultimate show – so just one more to go. And hopefully we can make it a memorable one."
But when a crowd is doing a good imitation of a roomful of zombie extras, a band is uphill climbing from the start.
And it might all have been OK if it hadn’t been for the talking …
That’s not to say there were no highs in a set that embraced all four of Amy’s albums and gave a good show to the latest, Under Stars.
After Spark, Amy chatted about her debut album This Is The Life: "So 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the release of my first album – sorry if that makes you feel old.
"Last week I got the message that it was now triple platinum!" she said to a cheer from the audience.
Amy grinned: "That’s 900,000 people with impeccable taste!"
She turned to introducing the next song, Youth Of Today: "When I was about 15-years-old I was sick of feeling I was being judged, just for being young …
"This year I turn 30 and I judge people who are younger than me!"
Then she revealed that in her ear-piece was the sound from some ambient mikes situated in the crowd "… and there’s the loudest man I’ve ever heard - shut it!" she laughed.
Back in time then to Mr Rock N Roll before Amy moved on to the new album’s Dream On.
And it was after this that Amy said: "So far you guys seem quite quiet. People said ‘Wait till you get to the Highlands!’ … Are you half-asleep?"
Someone muttered something about having to travel to the gig.
"We came up from Newcastle, so that is no excuse," she teased.
But the virtual silence back from the packed-in fans seemed to freak Amy out: "Oh my God, you’re the most unenthusiastic crowd! But maybe you can prove me wrong with your singing ability!"
They did sing for her, but obediently complying rather than showing much gusto.
Amy sipped a hot drink before the next number, revealing that the tour was taking a toll on her voice, so she was taking a break mid-gig to sip honey and ginger.
That wry sense of humour kicked in again: "It’s not very rock n roll – what happened to biring the heads off bats?!"
But it did make a merch-flogging opportunity as she subtly drew attention to her tour mug, on sale at the stall.
"I’m all about the hard sell," she grinned. And there had been a light-hearted plug for the new album earlier – "... it’s very, very, very, very, very, very, very good and I’m not at all biased!".
There was a shift from the foot-stomping, Amy-jigging tempo for a slowdown as the singer introduced the acoustic, stripped-down ballad version of 4th July – a nice contrast, except that it highlighted the fact people near the back were talking through the song.
Pride is vintage Life In a Beautiful Light (20120). And talking of vintage, this was where Amy and band stuck in their version of The Doobie Brothers 1970s classic Listen To The Music.
But it was also where the singer-songwriter could ignore the talking no longer.
"Those of a certain age will know the song, those younger will hopefully know it as well – and those who are continuously talking won’t give a toss!" Amy justifiably fumed.
"Why would you pay £30 a ticket to come and talk to your mates?"
The Doobies cover couldn’t match the sheer joy of the original, but it was bold to try – and good enough to get "those of a certain age" yanking the words from the back of their memories and younger ones quickly latching on to the catchy chorus.
The jungly beat of Poison Prince picked up the pace with Amy back on guitar.
And, maybe a little bit ashamed of the talkers amongst them, the still muted crowd clapped along enthusiastically.
Amy dropped the new single Automatic, the rest of the band joining in on harmonies.
But Love Love was the mid-set lull, a song that came across as so bland that Mr N. Ursery Rhyme and even Miss An Onymous might have been ashamed to put their names to it. Maybe it just needed a quirkier arrangement, but with Amy and the crowd not totally in love with each other at this point, the singer attempted the sympathy vote.
"The thing you don’t realise about going on tour for so long, it really takes it out of you," she said revealing the toll included blisters on every toe, another on her thumb that healed then split again when she tried to play the guitar again - and a bad back.
"I’m looking forward to the end of the tour … and then the ridiculous promo tour starts again. But I love being able to travel all over."
Amy pointed out some European fans at the front, another from Coventry, then launched the band in To Rise And Fall – usually a belter in anyone’s book and the musicians kept up the momentum firing straight into Run, rewarded with an enthusiastic cheer with more when she introduced the band.
Maybe thinking better of the attack on the talkers, Amy added before This Is The Life: "Thanks so much for having us this year it has been an absolute pleasure being with you guys."
The heat – which Amy commented on – in the venue may have had a soporific effect dulling down the crowd’s reactions. And when cool air began to filter through the building, the audience given a chance to sing on their own by Amy took it with a big cheer – and finally seemed to wake up.
Never Too Late saw Amy back on with her keyboard-player for a change of mood, then Life In A Beautiful Light cemented the encore vibe.
Maybe surprisingly given the night’s apathy and the talking – Amy returned to the stage for a second encore.
"It’s just going to be me and you, so the group of people who have paid £30 to chat to each other, can you just pipe down – the chat is crap as well!" was her stinging parting shot to them.
But once again, not forgetting her manners, Amy said it was a pleasure to perform.
"We love you!" yelled back a lone female voice near the back.
And as Prepare To Fall played out, Amy gave it lalldy still jigging in her high silver-soled black platform ankle-boots with more gusto than anyone with 10 blisters has the right to – as down the front people clapped and cheered her on.
After it, Amy said: "It’s lovely to be back in Inverness!"
Then Down By The Water from Under Stars took us to the low part of Amy’s voice range and with the band back on, the male voices singing in unison with her made a powerful sound and probably one of the stand out tracks from the sometimes bland rock around it.
As Amy strapped her guitar back on for what would be the second encore finisher and last-song-of-the-night, bassist Jimmy Sims stretched up his arms to wiggle-wave his fingers at the crowd – some happily twiddling back and poised to join in the overhead hand-clap.
With the whole talking/apathetic/quiet crowd vs grumpy/ plain-speaking/ tour-weary Amy embarrassment factor for both sides almost over, both musicians and crowd got stuck into making Let’s Start A Band everything it should have been.
The crowd came alive, Amy got stuck in and stirred up that rich champurrado of a voice one last time.
And if the gig had started there, with that level of energy from both sides, it could all have been so different.