The decision to go and see Lau was made last summer, when I was at Beautiful Days. I had spent a long, rainy day watching bands and trundling through the mud. I walked into the tent where Lau were playing and it was packed. I suddenly felt very tired and when I saw a space in line with the stage where I could sit on metal rather than muddy grass I decided to have a sit down and a picnic. I had my back to the stage and could not see the band, but I could hear Lau's music reverberating through the tent. The crowd was loving it and it sounded brilliant. I knew I should have been out there watching them.
The opportunity for this came when I saw that they would be playing Whelans on the eve of the Temple Bar Tradfest. In hindsight it was great to get to experience a full headline gig, because the show is specifically constructed to build and to show all aspects of what the trio are capable of, which would have been harder to do in an abbreviated festival set. I had checked Whelans' website beforehand to see what time the gig would start, and noticed that it said 'No support'. This should have alerted me to the fact that something special was coming. The band would need the full evening to present their show.
I thought that I had seen Lau before at a festival and I had a vague recollection of a reverb machine and gadgetry, which I am generally not fond of. It was therefore a surprise to see a very minimal set up: A fiddle, an acoustic guitar and an accordion, three chairs and one old-fashioned microphone, as close together as possible while still giving the musicians minimal elbow space to play. This was set up at the very front of the stage, literally a meter from where I was sitting. The advantage of solo gigging is that you can sometimes find a single front row seat available.
I felt I was nearly sitting in Lau's lap. There was a black drape behind them, therefore the iconic Whelans sign was not visible. The band walked on and without any fanfare they started a sublime acoustic set. I like my trad unadorned and this was just perfect. I started to think I must have misremembered the tricks and machines.
Lau are from Scotland. They are Aidan O'Rourke on fiddle, Kris Drever on guitar and vocals, and Martin Green on accordion. Aidan's fiddle playing is beautiful. I am no expert but I would describe it as more Duncan Chisholm/John McCusker rather than Martin Hayes/Steve Wickham, to name just some fiddlers I admire. Martin Green's accordion playing at times brought Kimmo Pohjonen to mind. I realized later on that he is the man behind the Crows' Bones and Flit projects that I have heard some songs of featuring Becky Unthank.
Kris Drever I had seen fairly recently, at a Music Network concert. In this early part of the concert he sang Lal Waterson's 'Midnight Feast', a song I love. Lal was an amazing singer and songwriter. Kris said that if you do not know Lal Waterson, you should – and he is right.
If the concert had ended after the acoustic first half, I would have gone home happy. In the interval I went to get a pint. There were about fourteen pints of Guinness stacked up on the bar waiting to be topped up. It was that kind of audience – no craft beers or spritzers!
When I got back to my seat the stage was transformed. It was a total contrast with what went before. It looked a bit like an inventor's workplace, with many instruments but also unidentifiable poles, wires, something looking like spider webs plus a Gay Pride flag. Reassuring in a way that my memory was somewhat correct after all.
The second part of the show was full of sonic wizardry, and very impressive. At times I realized my jaw dropped, and although there were only three musicians on stage I hardly knew where to look. The band members talked a little in between songs. They have a wonderfully dry sense of humour. They mentioned that they had been in Letterkenny the night before and were going to play at Celtic Connections. They appreciated us coming out in large numbers on a cold Tuesday night. Whelans had opened the upstairs section, which only happens when numbers allow for it.
I am not familiar with Lau's material, so cannot comment too much on what was played. After the show I bought 'Decade – The best of Lau 2007-2017', realising that it may be nigh impossible to capture what I had just witnessed on a disk. Some of the songs were made up out of different sections, with tempo changes, sound effects, Martin doing things with the spider web and also keyboards that were reminiscent of Kraftwerk! Mind blowing describes it best. I am so glad that I decided to go along to this gig.
On the way out I walked past Daragh Lynch from Lankum (all of Lankum were in attendance). “Fuckin' amazing!” was his verdict. I could not have put it better myself.