wed 19/06/2024

The Coral, Barrowland, Glasgow review - pop experimentalists prove overly smooth | reviews, news & interviews

The Coral, Barrowland, Glasgow review - pop experimentalists prove overly smooth

The Coral, Barrowland, Glasgow review - pop experimentalists prove overly smooth

The Liverpool band's nostalgia offered familiar comforts but lacked a spark

The Coral in light-hearted mood

Even blessed with youthful confidence, when the Coral first stepped out on the Barrowland stage 21 years ago to support the late, great Joe Strummer it’s hard to imagine they could have foreseen that they’d be able to return to the same stage over two decades later. 

Yet much like the former Clash frontman that night, here were the Liverpudlian group armed with a considerable back catalogue to delve into, and an audience eager for nostalgia, in the form of a run-through of the band’s debut album.

The Coral themselves have changed in that time, of course, increasing to a seven-piece for gigs and losing both their original guitarists along the way, while musically they have continued ploughing various furrows. The Barrowland though, remains the same, still a perfect Saturday night venue to dance, get sweaty and generally have a good time, with the audience age range suggesting plenty of followers wishing to recall stoned student days listening to the group’s eponymous first release.

If there is something mildly depressing about how the seven-piece’s previous date in Glasgow, with a new record to support, could only be held in the much smaller Oran Mor, while a revival tour sells out the Barrowland, then at least it is a record worth revisiting. There is still exuberance running through so much of the album, which was here presented near identically to the studio version. The gloriously retro twang of “Shadows Fall”, the filthy blues stomp of “Bad Man” and the crazed moment in “Skeleton Key” which crosses a folk chant with music that usually accompanies a ghost chasing Scooby Doo down a corridor all still bubble with excitement.

Such criss-crossing of styles did deliver something unique, while the frantic “Dreaming Of You” was a reminder of their skills at penning pure pop, something the show’s second half delved into further. Yet there was also something frustrating at seeing such a varied and experimental group rattling through past glories in such an exact fashion. That first album is an excellent record, but other than an extended jam during “Goodbye” there was little to differentiate the live experience from the studio product.

At least bassist Paul Duffy was in the right mood, bellowing out plenty of appreciation, while the group’s singer and main songwriter James Skelly took a more laid back tone, to the extent that after mentioning it being a Saturday night he double checked the date with his bandmates. Skelly is a truly skilled writer, adept at penning off-kilter pop tunes, such as the jaunty homage to mid-life depression and sucide, “Bill McCai” that kicked the second half off in fine fashion.

However that second half, essentially a greatest hits run-through, was less than the sum of its parts. The likes of “Jacqueline” and Pass It On” double up as both whimsical, melodic tunes and boozy sing-a-longs, but the Coral as a band are capable of much more.

A condensed collection of tunes centred around the easy-going likes of “In the Morning” and wig-out friendly jams like “Holy Revelation” and the show-closing sprint of “Arabian Sand” was a little too predictable, like watching the chaotic edges of those earlier songs be smoothed into place in real time. The group themselves remain one to treasure, but the straightforward nostalgia here can be left behind.

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