Two different sensibilities, two different perspectives. As we head home from the gig, Alex has a great big smile on her face. She’s been charmed by Tunng tonight. And I can see why. For starters, their music is just as quirky and delicately articulated live as it is on record. Acoustic guitars and percussion blend seemlessly with the electronic chirps and pre-recorded beats for which the group have rightly made a name for themselves as stalwarts of Britain’s so-called ‘folktronica’ scene. But in the flesh they also bring to this a self-deprecating English humour which is genuinely endearing. Lead singer Mike Lindsey deserves a lot of the credit in this respect. He seems like a genuinely affable guy. And having temporarily daubed a pair of outrageous blue and gold winged sunglasses for the occasion, his outrageously out of place faux-metal guitar solo on By Dusk They Were In The City is unquestionably one of the night’s highlights: a moment of musical slap-stick genius. That this is a band with its collective tongue (tunng?) planted very firmly in its cheek is abundantly clear. Alex, as I say, is one hundred percent sold. And she certainly isn’t the only one this evening either.
For my part though, I can’t help but feel that it’s all just a little bit nice. As fun as Tunng admittedly are and for all their pretentions at genre-bending, tonight the line between this and straight-up blandness sometimes seems precariously thin. The tempos plod and the crowd gently bobs and everyone is very nice and sensible and polite and we’ll all be tucked up safely in bed again shortly after 11. God knows I hate myself for saying it, but this is a Tuesday night gig if ever there was one.
Of course, I’m just as well aware as the rest of you that this whole Lester Bangs music-as-Dionysian-headfuck schtick is nothing but a tired old rockist cliché by this point. And that now that mp3’s have become the permanent wallpaper to our acoustic lives, it’s unfair really to criticise the likes of Tunng - who seem like a great bunch and whose records at one point or another I’ve really liked - for making such a pleasant racket. But the thing is that the wallpaperification of music culture simply makes me itch for those rapturous, transcendent moments even more. I’m on the hunt for jouissance and nice simply doesn’t cut it.
This is why I find it so difficult to know what to say about opener Fergus Brown. He seems like a good bloke and a genuinely decent musician. But – and here’s the real point – as the indie-folk nexus takes up an increasingly central place in the mainstream, I find myself increasingly tired of it all. I’m tired of singer-songwriters, I’m tired of folk, I’m tired of 90s FM pop revivalism and all of their lovingly crafted ditties. It’s all so utterly blissless.