David Thomas Broughton @ The Arches, 6 May

Article by Sam Wiseman | 09 May 2011

RM Hubbert is discreetly building a reputation as a strikingly talented and distinctive performer of acoustic guitar instrumentals. His flamenco-tinged pieces represent something of a return to first principles for the Glasgwegian, who built his reputation in idiosyncratic post-rockers El Hombre Trajeado: as with key 90s experimental guitarists such as David Grubbs, age has prompted a renewed attentiveness to the melodic possibilities of untreated guitar, a determination to wring authenticity from the barest tools.

With his piercing gaze and solemn manner, Yorkshire’s David Thomas Broughton is an unsettlingly intense, arresting performer: his distinctive rich intonations and melancholy acoustic arpeggios command the crowd’s attention throughout his performance. In a radically different way to Hubbert, Broughton also pursues a deconstructive approach to song. Where the former’s complex, yet stripped-down melodies seem motivated by an urge to eschew all superfluity, Broughton’s improvisational approach deliberately complicates and undermines itself. This is achieved through the use of loops, improvisation and audience interaction, methods which simultaneously rejuvenate and challenge the ‘singer-songwriter’ figure.

The ‘songs’, if they can be easily categorised as such, are marked by shifts from introspection to deadpan humour. It’s Broughton’s imaginativeness as an improviser and experimenter that inject this music with genuine strangeness and beauty: buzzing electronic interference and feedback intensify the pathos of the pieces, and his penchant for wandering among the crowd heightens the performance’s sense of dramatic ambiguity. Tonight, then, sees two divergent ways to explore the boundaries of song, both of which are remarkably successful.