Live Reviews

  Hot Club of Cowtown, Red Stick Ramblers live at the O2 ABC in Glasgow

The first thing you should probably know when setting out to review a gig is the actual venue the band are playing in. Turned out Hot Club of Cowtown were playing in the ABC, not the Classic Grand as I'd wrongly assumed, and as a result I stumbled in as Red Stick Ramblers were just finishing their opening number in front of a sizeable audience.

Louisiana natives, their look and sound was authentic right down to their old-fashioned threads. If there had been hay bales and a cow on stage, they wouldn't have looked out of place. Combining two fiddles, guitar and upright bass with beautiful harmonies and opportunities to shine individually on vocals, their set was mostly a sparky and upbeat mix of original material and traditional songs interspersed with good humoured chat (although a telling comment was made when a couple began dancing that "back home, you'd have everyone dancing and 2 people standing…"). They also demonstrated an unusual set piece of 2 people playing the one fiddle that was impressive to watch. The pace slowed occasionally, such as when they played "the worlds only Cajun murder ballad", but the set closed on a rollicking rock and roll stomp that allowed each player to show off their improvisational talents (more about this in a bit…) to rapturous applause.

I had a little fear about the headliners, Hot Club of Cowtown. Their name is an obvious nod to Django Reinhardt's trio, the Hot Club de Paris, and I'd first become aware of their similar gypsy jazz stylings via an appearance on Jools Holland. However, a quick visit to their MySpace page showed they'd dropped the tempo into lounge territory for most recent album "Wishful Thinking", and I feared I might be in danger of falling asleep over a vodka martini.

hot club of cowtown

This fear was short lived as they immediately launched into their more familiar foot-tapping jazz back catalogue. Comprising guitar, fiddle and upright bass, the band fired off song after song of fiddly, noodly jazziness. Which is where the problems began. Having already seen the Red Stick Ramblers do the "hey, lets have a big improvisational solo part, each, in EVERY SONG" I was more than open to the possibility of having some tunes that have more than two lines of lyrics and don't last three weeks. The impression here though was that the "songs" were merely a framework for three admittedly talented musicians to show off. I began to drift off as we entered yet another three minute guitar/fiddle/upright-bass solo. Frankly, it was boring, and not only this, you're expected to clap every time they do it. I'm sorry, but if you're a musician who gets to travel the world performing for people, I EXPECT you to be good at playing your instrument and not to have to continually congratulate you about it. It also seemed that they'd been allotted an hour and a half set and were struggling to come up with songs to fill the time. When they announced they had around half an hour left I decided my time might be better spent on some other pursuit. Like punching myself in the face.

I can't explain exactly why I enjoyed the Red Stick Ramblers and not Hot Club of Cowtown, but it has led me to a conclusion that I'm really not a big fan of improvisational jazz even when performed on familiar songs such as "I'm in Heaven". It's all a bit smug after a while, and especially in a city where the culture is to stand and watch rather than get up and dance, then, to the curious listener, it seems that fifteen minutes were spent doing what musicians in other genres do in three. I'm pretty certain Hot Club of Cowtown are one of the best bands at what they do but one and a half hours of it just isn't for me. But that's the beauty of Celtic Connections, so many genres are represented there'll be lots to love, lots to like, lots to tolerate and lots to hate. Let's file this one under toler-hate.

Review Date: January 16 2010