When you take into consideration that it’s a treat to see Glasgow band Camera Obscura on their brief eleven day North American tour this summer, it was even more of a treat to see them in the relatively intimate settings of the Loving Touch in Ferndale, Michigan.
Singer/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell addressed the close quarters of the venue by saying “It’s been a while since we could smell the crowd,” and without further ado the band launched into the aptly titled “Break It To You Gently” from last years underrated LP Desire Lines that set the tone for the remainder of the evening.
By the time the band hit the shimmery new wave dream of the end of “New Years Resolution” and Campbell’s refrain of ‘Stay Now’, it was clear the packed house wasn’t going anywhere.
“Let’s Get Out Of This Country”, the first of several songs from the 2006 album of the same name, upped the ante. The number’s galloping pop and declaration of setting out for parts unknown are quintessential Camera Obscura and guitarist Kenny McKeeve stepped on the volume pedal for the wondrously twangy solo.
Camera Obscura’s subtle versatility was on display and for a band that is at times accused of sounding too much the same, it’s amazing to behold the way the 7 piece group can move so effortlessly and chameleon like through a variety of genres like 60s pop, motown soul, new wave, angelo badalementi moods, Smithsian jangle just to name a few. Part of the greatness of the band is the timelessness of the sound, without it ever sounding blatantly retro.
The band has been known for its somewhat dour expressions and disposition. When some audience members implored McKeeve to just “smile”, Campbell responded by deadpanning “Smiling is overrated”. It was a good reminder of the bookish, sarcastic anthems for Lit major geeks of old Camera Obscura.
The new songs from Desire Lines seemed to have benefitted from some time and distance. “Cri du Couer” was a revelation with Carey Lander’s keyboards and Tim Davidson’s pedal steel interweaving to create a gorgeous swoony atmosphere. The rhythm section of drummer Lee Thomson and percussionist Tim Cronin shown on the buoyantly bittersweet “Every Weekday”. Bassist Gavin Dunbar maybe the unsung hero of the entire band as his seemingly effortless melodic basslines are as s unassuming as his stage presence. The set ended with a trio of Motownesque powerhouse songs “Do it Again”, “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken” and “If Looks could Kill” that had the crowd revved up and attempting to clap along to the beautifully somber and perhaps an ill-timed “Country Mile” to which Campbell reassured the audience, “It’s not really a song you can clap along to”.
The encore of “Books Written for Girls” just about stopped time, with Campbell casting a spell over the venue that stood in rapt attention while Lander and Davidson wrapped the whole thing up with more dreamy keyboards and pedal steel. Closer “Razzle Dazzle Rose” ended the show in that perfect Au Lang Sine way that it always does.
Opener Laura Cantrell played a thoroughly enjoyable set of her well-crafted fine art country songs. An impromptu duet with Matthew Smith of the Detroit band Outrageous Cherry on the Everly Brothers “I Wonder if I Care as Much” gave the set a jolt of energy and a special moment for the Detroit faithful. It was a nice gesture on Cantrell’s part to recognize a vastly underrated talent in Smith and to invite him to sing on an equally underrated Everly Brothers song.
As the band bounded off the stage, there was a hint of sadness and finality to the evening. There seems to be a question mark surrounding the future of Camera Obscura. Perhaps these lines from “Country Mile” say it best –
I won’t be seeing you for a long while
I hope it’s not as long as these country miles
I feel lost
Mostly because they did not perform “Fifth in Line To The Throne”, which belongs in a David Lynch film.
Steve Davison is a writer living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has degrees in Environmental Studies and English. Recently he has written pieces for the Rapidian, Troika Moonshine 300 and ArtHack.org. He has spent a great deal of his life, maybe too much of it, listening to, talking about and reading about music.