Lawrence Arabia at The Hug And Pint, 21/9/16

In the basement of The Hug and Pint on a drizzly September evening, New Zealand’s own Lawrence Arabia – aka Taite Music Prize-winning artist James Milne – is a long way from home.

Less seasoned performers might wilt when, huddled on a small stage on the other side of the world, they gaze out at the faces of an unknown crowd, mere feet away from their own.

Fortunately, Milne is the finest, most edifying Kiwi export to alight on our undeserving shores since that .gif of a politician getting hit in the face with a dildo.

And while that comparison could be painfully extended into a metaphor for Lawrence Arabia’s own highly cerebral songs about romantic and sexual disappointment, I won’t do the man such a flagrant disservice here.

More tastefully put, Milne as Lawrence Arabia is an utterly captivating performer, and from beginning to end of this intimate solo gig, the audience is hanging on his every honeyed word.

Highlights include a rendition of the APRA Silver Scroll Award-winning track ‘Apple Pie Bed’, with the whole room straining indefatigably to join Milne on its soulful falsetto chorus.

New track ‘O Heathcote’ from current record Absolute Truth is a poignant – and very funny – acknowledgement of the existential crises hiding at the heart of middle-class, middle-aged life: a life which, as Milne (now settled father to a young daughter) acknowledges, may be closer for him than it used to be.

The tune’s crowning couplet – “and in September, I contemplate surrender / just dwell upon my odour and pour another soda / in spite of Palestine” – elicits the perfect half-laugh from the audience, as we appreciate the artistry in front of us while pondering the pointlessness of our lives behind us.

Milne’s a fine guitarist too, despite his protestations – after announcing he’s bound to fuck up an upcoming solo, he nails it with the studied enthusiasm of a shredder at a high school talent show.

It’s testament to Milne’s rare aura that someone who cuts such a diminutive figure (think Domhnall Gleeson on Casual Friday) should nonetheless hold an audience so transfixed.

Frankly, the man should be more well-known than he is, mentioned in the same breath as a John Grant or a Sharon Van Etten: something I no doubt make a hash of trying to tell him as I buy my copy of Absolute Truth at the end of the night.

But while such renown remains forthcoming, in the meantime Glasgow will welcome him in whatever guise he wishes to assume.

A very honourable mention must be reserved for support act Dave Frazer, whose hushed, fingerpicked ballads set the mood for the evening magnificently.

Absolute Truth by Lawrence Arabia

Words: Graham Neil Gillespie

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