Amadou & Mariam - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Wed 22 Jan 2014, part of Celtic Connections
The world music superstars play a mixed bag of uninspiring numbers and irresistible, energetic grooves
Due to health and safety concerns, Glasgow is denied Amadou & Mariam's Eclipse show, performed entirely in the dark to evoke the blind couple's experience of concerts and offer an insight into their lives. Perhaps the City Council had visions of dancers blindly plummeting from the balconies. But while it's a shame to miss the atmospheric and multi-sensory Eclipse, a more conventional Amadou & Mariam is nothing to be sniffed at. Having performed at numerous rock festivals, and even supported the evil twins of vanilla stadium rock, U2 and Coldplay, these world music superstars know how to work a crowd. Although the couple themselves are not the most demonstrative of performers, they maintain a commanding stage presence, while their energetic percussionist whips up the crowd. The audience are encouraged to clap along, and before too long, the entire crowd is on its feet, with the musicians feeding off the energy. The ushers give up any attempts to control the jiggin' punters and a party atmosphere fills the often staid Royal Concert Hall.
In the midst of this is your correspondent, hoping that he doesn't seem like a terrible snob for not quite enjoying himself as much as everyone else. Perhaps my ears are more attuned to the rawer sounds of Tuareg desert rock and vintage Afro-funk, but I can appreciate Amadou & Mariam for the consummate world music crossover artists they are. Their deft fusion of Malian blues guitar, Afro-pop, reggae and disco is, at its best, a joyous thing. Shorn of the studio gloss and abundant guests of their albums, the live show highlights their anthemic melodies and Amadou's blazing guitar playing, as he fires off chugging blues riffs, funky licks and tough, spidery solos. He brings a grit that is perhaps lacking from the French rhythm section, who while fluid and funky, are perhaps just a little too slick, in that way Parisian world music session musos often are. A bit more sweat and dirt would make this band so much hotter. In fairness, they're not trying to be a hardcore funk band, and the bouncy disco and salsa grooves of the show-stopping 'Sebeke', spiced up by the djembe player's energetic salvos, are irresistible. Less successful, perhaps, are the worthier blues chuggers like 'Chantez Chantez' or the insipid ballad 'Je Pense a Toi', which opens the encore. But there's no arguing with the cowbell-laced Latin house grooves of 'Beaux Dimanche' or 'La Realite', which, shorn of producer Manu Chao's gimmicky police-siren effects and rinky dink reggae beat, becomes a righteous groove.