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TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED
:: I Am Kloot ::
16 June 2010 / Academy 3 / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

"There are a few new ones sprinkled amongst them which, as ever, don't shoot off into any weird new experimental directions, but when you're pretty much the best at what you do then why stop doing it? You don't go and see I Am Kloot expecting to have your mind blown, but you always come out with a general feeling of well-being and that everything's somehow all right in the world." So ended my twelfth live review of I Am Kloot for these pages a little under two years ago, and much as I love the band that was definitely it. From now on I'd just go and watch. Bloke, guitar, great songs, bit of banter, what more was there to say?

Five past nine and the crowd's getting restless. Not least because it's about a million degrees in Academy 3 and I Am Kloot - who famously play such long sets these days they don't bother with support acts - were due on 20 minutes ago. Eventually the lights dim and - hold on a minute, who the heck are all these people? There's loads of them! "Same old line up" says Johnny Bramwell with a knowing shrug as we survey the collection of brass and string and keyboard players sitting around our beloved three-headed Manchester institution. And I'm not quite preparing a plate and cutlery for my words just yet - the first couple of tracks are augmented by orchestration so subtle it could have been a backing tape. Yet gradually the sound grows into the sort of Big Band that emphasises the baroque end of Bramwell's songwriting: the new material feels darker and more downbeat than previous outings (if still unmistakeably Kloot), and the expanded line-up provides many a dramatic twist. "Some things change and some stay the same" muses our diminutive bandleader with one foot up on a beer crate as usual "this is a song about drinking... and disaster!" Almost a catchphrase, several people in the crowd have got to the "and disaster" bit before him. That's Bramwell all over, though; the unparalleled observational poetry in his lyrics (lines like "the guy on the bus who's not quite one of us" say so much in so few syllables) balanced as ever by his general chattiness. "Are we OK there?" he asks longtime bassist Pete Jobson who looks like he might drop from heatstroke at any minute - " Are we a bit stringy-melting? Um. What a fantastic bit of stagecraft." It is, though, in a peculiar way. Watching I Am Kloot never feels like a scripted and tightly arranged experience, even if the format tonight implies it must be to some extent. You feel involved, at ease. Whether it's the distraction of suddenly fronting a stage full of people or the sheer heat, he forgets the words to "Proof" - luckily plenty of the crowd can help out.

And then there's just him. They depart as unexpectedly as they appeared, followed by a collection of their partners and children from around the stagefront, and Johnny Dangerously is back - his voice roughened only slightly by quarter of a century of drinking and disaster, and with that same grasp of a perfect melody that's stamped through him like the proverbial stick of rock. Soon Jobson and equally long-serving drummer Andy Hargreaves return for the best of the best, a set of I Am Kloot classics in which the only unexpected occurrence is the fight that nearly breaks out a few feet into the front crowd. No, really. Said fracas - in which violence escalates as far as a genuine old-school clip-round-the-ear and some swearing before the main assailant is led away by her partner whose expression has definite hints of "oh no, not again" - is rendered all the more bizarre by the fact that all four involved parties are somewhere in the region of fifty. Meanwhile we get "Storm Warning", "Because", "Over My Shoulder", "Twist", "Cuckoo" and then an encore of a gorgeous solo "No Fear Of Falling" and a three-man "86 TVs" - songs so beautifully timeless it feels almost guilty that we kind of take them for granted. As for that first set, maybe "mind blowing" would be too strong a word for it; that's still not I Am Kloot's way. But a new and experimental direction? In the literal sense, that's exactly what it was. Fetch me some salt and pepper before those words go cold...


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