Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert @ Summerhall, Edinburgh, 20 Sep
Playing one of their final shows together, Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert deliver as alternately thought-provoking and irreverent an evening as you'd expect
'We are never ever, ever getting back together!' So goes the jubilantly triumphant Taylor Swift classic that accompanies Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert (along with Jenny Reeve and David Jeans) to the stage. It's a typically sardonic way of emphasising that this is one of the duo's last shows together (“just two more nights... two more nights”, Moffat mutters to himself after some loose, meandering banter from Hubby), the final act of their “uncoupling” after two years of collaborative efforts together.
Cockcrow opens the set with a perfect showcase of Hubbert's acoustic, fingerpicking skills (complete with cascading taps for percussion) and Moffat's yearning, yet disaffected drawl, with Reeve providing the complementary vocals originally sung by Siobhan Wilson. Most of the set is comprised of Here Lies the Body, the album the pair released last year that went on to be shortlisted for the 2019 Scottish Album of the Yearr. While it may tread familiar lyrical territory (namely, “shagging” or “how having a child kills a romance”), it varies pretty wildly in arrangements.
One moment there's a familiar, dirge-like processional, punctuated with sweeping violin and unobtrusive drums, but then there's the samba-infused Party On, a sorrowful wisp of harmonica, a brief melodica coda or even some tasty synths. There's even time for a few choice cuts from the pair's Christmas album, Ghost Stories for Christmas. And despite it being, as Hubby puts it, relishing in the irony – “probably the highest temperature for this day in Scottish history” – the sleigh bells of the title track are another welcome variant on the pair's usual fare.
The second of the group's “happy songs” is a wonderful cover of Yazoo's Only You – though Moffat is quick to point out that it's full of “loneliness and despair” – that is somehow perfectly suited to his lilting brogue. New song, Cut To Black, which was tailor-made to overegg a sense of finality, closes the main set in emphatic style (despite Moffat's regret that he'd already mentioned the encore).
John Burgess, who provided saxophone for Here Lies the Body, makes his live debut with the band during Quantum Theory Love Song, before the supporting players exit to leave just the main duo. They deliver a lovely, sparse version of Fringe (which Hubby had messed up, twice, about an hour earlier) that is one of the best examples of Moffat's bathos-laden storytelling, weaving a dislike of marshmallows, cosmic existentialism and squatting in a forest into a satisfyingly unified thread.
The whole evening is as alternately thought-provoking and irreverent as you'd expect from these two, and here's hoping that the creative spark this collaboration has ignited remains lit wherever their respective career paths take them next.