Meursault, Rob St John and Jill O’Sullivan & Jenny Reeve - Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sat 7 Jul 2012 (4 stars)

Meursault with Rob St John and Jill O’Sullivan & Jenny Reeve, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sat 7 Jul

Photo: Dylan Matthews

Triumphant performance more than delivering on high hopes of hometown crowd

Some album launches can be rather flat affairs – people don’t know the songs, the band are nervous, and it can all feel a bit dutiful. But this packed-out show heralding the arrival of album number three for Meursault couldn’t have been further from that state of affairs: Neil Pennycook and friends (lots of them!) reaped the rewards of years of tireless gigging around Edinburgh and beyond, delivering a triumphant performance and more than delivering on the high hopes of a loyal hometown crowd.

First, though, there's the dual country-pop charms of Sparrow & the Workshop’s Jill O’Sullivan and Strike the Colours songwriter/serial Glaswegian guester Jenny Reeve. Their sweetly poised voices are perhaps a little too similar to form the very best kind of double act, but it’s an engaging set of neat pop songs, rounded off with an unexpectedly enjoyable JLS cover. Next up is Rob St John, not only Meursault's Song by Toad labelmate but also featuring main man Pennycook on the harmonium. St John’s material is haunting, but like the preceding act a little unvaried in tone and mood – a criticism that nobody could level at the headliners.

At their most numerous, Meursault tonight consist of drums, piano, harmonium, bass and three guitars, plus the powerhouse vocals of Neil Pennycook, all of which makes for a lot of noise. Oh, and there’s a nine-piece string section, too. They play every song from new album, Something for the Weakened, interspersed with older material – and in one case both at the same time: ‘Lament for a Teenage Millionaire’, a highlight of the band’s debut album, appears on the new release in radically reworked form. It’s an unusual move, but one typical of a band for whom resting on their laurels is anathema.

At its best, Meursault songs are resonant, clever and original – and due to that relentless re-invention and quality control, there’s very little here that’s not at that level. Musically, tonight is a chance for the band to indulge in some rich and rousing arrangements, not to mention the odd frenzied guitar solo; but when he’s not rocking out and roaring in characteristically hurricane-like style over a maelstrom of strings, Pennycook’s vocals prove devastating backed solely by Lorcan Docherty’s tender piano accompaniment – ‘Mamie’, a song he dedicates to his grandmother, proves one of the most emotional turns of the night. A satisfying show, then, and a fitting way to launch an album which, after several years of local renown, may just propel Meursault into the big league.

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