Sitting quiet and graceful amongst a sea of concrete towers and sex shops, Bristol’s Trinity Centre is an appropriate venue for Glasvegas. The spectacular lighting reveals the enigmatic gothic church as a beacon of grace and hope against the encroaching darkness that surrounds it. An apt location then for a band that explores the glory and emotion of a world drenched in broken homes, crime and violence.
Apt as well for the religious fervour that has swept Glasvegas here. Less than a week old, their startling, eponymously-titled debut has already shifted over 50,000 copies, contradicting any doubts that this is a band built on hype and no soul. True, the hype burns so bright it threatens to pierce the Wayfarers that James Allan refuses to take off – coolly ignoring any health and safety implications on the darkened stage. But it’s their conviction that burns brightest of all; an addictive sense of purpose that eloquently pairs Allan’s compelling lyrical reportage of dislocated urban living – cynical racist murders, estranged fathers, tooled-up gangs – with an incendiary sense of the Clash’s bombastic urgency crashing through Phil Spector’s wall of sound.
It’s this mix of swagger and desire that runs through everything that Glasvegas do. From the spiralling, white noise that heralds first song ‘Flowers and Football Tops’, through the playground battles and infectious howl of ‘Go Square Go’, to ‘Geraldine’, Allan’s hymn of the true passion of a social worker.
It’s evident in their composure. Rab Allan and Paul Donoghue, bassist and guitarist respectively, tear at their instruments while behind them Caroline McKay, strikingly standing behind her kit, looks intent on destroying the few drums she has. In the centre of all this Allan’s strong-as-an-ox pose remains reassuringly consistent: guitar low, head high, like a ley preacher brought up on Strummer and Brando. Only when the pace of the delivery eases and he’s freed from the microphone does he move slightly, arching his back towards the stage, raising his darkened eyes to the ceiling, as if looking towards the heavens for some answers to the riddles that occupy him.
The pose is refreshingly iconic and therein lies the paradox. For a band that is so fresh-off-the-blocks they’d have Usain Bolt looking over his shoulder, Glasvegas display an attitude that is wise beyond their years. It’s like the girl groups and Jesus and Mary Chain are not just influences but ghosts stirring within them. This is a band that sound so old and lived-in yet stun you with how new and invigorating they are.
It’s an interesting fact that the finest of artists can be confounding, riddled with contradictions and questions, never easy to dissect or to explain. Against the Van Gogh-inspired artwork of their debut, seemingly etched into the back wall, the silhouettes of these three men and one woman in black manage to shimmer with both the leanings of the past and the expectations of the future. Tonight, any passers by might just have noticed the Trinity’s beacon burning a little more brightly than usual.