LIVE REVIEW: Arab Strap at Koko, London

LIVE REVIEW: Arab Strap at Koko, London
© Kat Gollock

Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road was revolutionary when it was released in 1957 because it discussed taboo themes few authors of the time dared to explore. Similarly, Arab Strap’s notoriety, as one journalist put it, stems from how the duo “provoked and found poetry in themes… few of their indie rock counterparts of the ’90s had the stomach for.”

Since reforming in 2016, frontman Aidan Moffat has shifted his songwriting from autobiographical narratives to exploring a broader range of issues and topics that pique his interest. Arab Strap is confident that their post-2016 material represents an evolution in their sound, evident that 13 of the 18 songs performed came from their last two LPs.

Following support from indie outfit Swedish twin sisters 7ebra, Arab Strap launched straight into performing three songs from their latest album I’m Totally Fine with It Don’t Give a Fuck Anymore. The social commentary on track three, “Sociometer Blues,” proved the most gripping with its piercing analysis of social media’s impact. The lyrics, set to a percussive piano soundscape, “I come to you for… But you give me aggravation/insult and disinformation/hatred, bias and predation,” collectively gripped the audience at Koko.

Two-thirds through the set, the spoken word piece “Dreg Queen” from the latest LP delved into the importance of face-to-face interactions in pubs and public spaces, where Moffat finds a sense of relief and replenishment after spending too much time online. The use of spoken word earlier in the set for “New Birds” from Arab Strap’s sophomore LP Philophobia proved to be a standout moment, exploring the inability to escape an ex when there’s unfinished business. This extended EDM and heavy guitar motley was a highlight of the performance.

The pre-encore playout saw Arab Strap play their 12th song from their two most recent LPs. The song “Turn Off the Light” explores how conspiracy theories by “nefarious” elements such as “Holocaust deniers” spread quickly. This song’s slow electronic backdrop, built upon with heavy guitars and synths, was a crowd-pleaser, earning the most passionate and joyous applause of the night.

Pre-2016 material, particularly pre-2006, was significantly underrepresented in the setlist. Nonetheless, some of Arab Strap’s greatest classics were performed live, including “Girls of Summer” from their first EP. While much of Arab Strap’s earlier material is less immediate and often exceeds average track lengths, “The Shy Retirer” from their fifth album, released in 2003, proved to be the most pop and instant. The lyrical heroics continued with “Packs of Three” from Philophobia, a song Moffat has previously dedicated to his mum at shows. Despite its dark themes, the lyrical genius of “Packs of Three” remains timeless live.

Should Arab Strap have played more pre-2006 hits? Perhaps. Album three Elephant Shoe, which turns 25 later this year, was omitted from the setlist. Although fans didn’t sing along to any of the songs, the emotive impact was palpable, with stoic, elated appreciation. While the Arab Strap community at Koko was not the most kinetic, they certainly understood the “moral” of their latest album: to “go out and enjoy yourself.” And enjoy themselves they did.


Xsnoize Author
Michael Barron 346 Articles
Michael first began writing whilst studying at university; reviewing the latest releases and live gigs. He has since contributed to the Fortean Times as well as other publications. Michael’s musical tastes vary from Indie to psychedelic, folk and dubstep.

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