If there's no rest for the wicked, then Bruce Soord and The Pineapple Thief must have been very naughty boys indeed. Not content with a UK tour in 2012 to support their excellent After The Wars album, those pilferers of pointy fruits brought a second whistle stop four date jaunt round the UK (this time in support of the Build A World EP) to an end with a masterful display of power and precision. Joining the fun were outlandish Aussies The Red Paintings and impressive young Glasgow upstarts Atlas : Empire.
I've lost count of the times I've trundled into a gig in Glasgow full of enthusiasm at discovering some unheralded young band desperate to display their powers, only to have those hopes thoroughly destroyed by under rehearsed, over matched, under talented teenagers with far more belief than ability. However Atlas : Empire are exactly the sort of band that keeps me arriving at gigs full of anticipation as the doors open. Young they may be, but this bunch of five hairy, bearded degenerates possess stage presence and, crucially, the songs to make their all too brief set compulsive viewing for a healthy dose of early arrivals. Musically A:E are a strange mix of electro-prog-metal-synthpop with a mixture of clean and near screamo vocals, bludgeoning, beguiling and boorish from the off. Singer/guitarist Steven Gillies howls and wails with piercing ability, dividing his time between mad convulsions and a boffin on his knees like approach, retuning and adjusting his guitars and pedals. Second guitarist - of three - Jamie Sturt also ably takes on lead vocals, while adding bleeping bloops of keyboards and occasional front of stage floor tom flurries, although with bobbing bassist Dave Stephen also providing backing vocals, the three voice interplay is seriously impressive in a band so young. Four lengthy tracks come and go all too quickly, "In The Arms Of The Abyss" being the stand out and Acid : Empire are gone, safe in the knowledge that the hearty applause and cheers from a previously unaware audience have been well earned. It would appear an EP purchase is required!
So with one pleasant surprise dealt, another arrives in the shape of The Red Paintings, with singer Trash McSweeney striding forth alone with acoustic guitar. Wearing a furry Russian Army hat, what I can only presume is his Mum's old green coat, a parachute come smock skirt (the band's full stage show incorporates body painting as TRP weave their musical art) and a nice pair of sensible shoes, he either cuts quite a dash, or looks like someone who should be asking for your loose change. Quietly spoken, Trash suddenly bursts into life, strumming for all he's worth, offering something between crooning and an anguished scream. With the full band not making the arduous trip from Australia to Scotland, Trash is then joined by the Geisha dressed Alix Kol on electric violin, as the pair set about creating their sometimes jagged, sometimes soothing soundscapes. The beautiful "Sings" is a genuine highlight, although a poignant reworking of Tears For Fears "Mad World" runs it close. Witty, if often bizarre stage banter ensures everyone remains onside (although Trash did have to ask to make sure...) for what could have in some eyes been a left field departure on tonight's bill. However by the end of their thirty minute stint The Red Paintings have confused, amazed and humoured. Most importantly they entertained from start to finish and hopefully we'll see their even more uncompromising full band show on these shores very soon.
With their fantastic October 2012 set (just along the road in The Classic Grand) still fresh in the memory, the main event are far less an unknown quantity than what has come before, although there's no doubt that they still left by far the strongest impression. "Give It Back" surges the show into life, singing guitarist Bruce Soord juddering around the stage as only he can, before "Innocent" reinforces the early momentum. "Last Man Standing" then goes on to show the other side of The Pineapple Thief, with energetic bursts being punctuated by the keen maraca shaking of drummer Keith Harrison, although it is his ever changing cymbal attacks that catch the eye and the ear on "Shout First". Already it's clear that Soord's assertions that he and his band have grafted long and hard in recent times on their live performances, has paid dividends, with the ever captivating "Show A Little Love" allowing the frontman to break out his inverted slide guitar style. Seemingly walking a fine line between musical conductor and frothing madman, Soord is a hard man to wrest your eyes from, however quick glances around the tight stage reveal all of the Thief's are deeply lost in the moment, keyboard player Steve Kitch madly twiddling knobs, adjusting laptops and careening from keyboard to keyboard, while bassist Jon Sykes, ever the rock of this outfit on stage, grooves with such conviction he looks like he's auditioning for Saturday Night Fever. Harrison simply flurries round the kit.
Donning his acoustic guitar, Soord leads the troops through stripped back, if no less energetic bursts of "Someone Pull Me Out", "All The Wars" and a very brave given the current propensity for chatting at gigs, guitar and voice only "My Best To You" - the vocal play between the frontman and bassist hitting new heights, resulting in a dangerous move being a genuine highlight. "Snowdrops", where all manner of shakers, maracas and tambourines are employed, then surges into view providing a clattering electric release, before the bass prowl and hand-clap of "3000 Days" has the crowd at the band's mercy. "Build A World" increases the energy further, proving the TPT have found a new fan favourite, before "Somewhere Here Is Missing" actually left no one in any doubt that everyone here was listening - and loving every second. "Reaching Out" does just that, everyone in attendance clapping in unison, before the forceful restraint of "Warm Seas" makes way for the keyboard bounce of "Nothing At Best", ending the set in stunning style.
Having already promised that they wouldn't play the "we leave the stage, you cheer, we come back" encore game, the crowd simply refuses to leave it at that, coaxing the band back for a fragile acoustic version of oldie "Part Zero", where both Soord and Sykes stood without their microphones, singing to a crowd that matched every word. Something which was really rather special to see, although even that was topped by an emotional run through of "Light Up Your Eyes" as the set closed proper.
Why The Pineapple Thief aren't huge, I'm not quite sure, as their crafted yet heartfelt music has the stark emotion to appeal to the masses, the force to capture the rock crowd and the intricacy to mesmerise progsters. On the evidence of tonight's performance, they also have the live skills to silence any doubters. The promised 2014 tour can't come quick enough!