The Pastels @ Museum of the Moon, Glasgow, 1 Jun

Andrew Wasylyk, Modern Studies and The Pastels make for a perfect night under the moon

Live Review by Rachel Bowles | 08 Jun 2018

It’s not everyday that music lovers get to experience their favourite bands live in intimate spaces, even less so with stunning art that is conceptualised to fit a gig’s experience. When visuals and music meet it tends towards big screens behind big stages, the venue chosen to fit the band’s projected ticket sales. If the spaces aren’t as huge as The SSE Hydro’s aircraft hangar-style, utilitarian interior, they may still be functional yet relatively oppressive – dingy bars with low ceilings, or standing only rooms built to entertain as many as possible. For some these are enjoyable aspects of the scenery of a live experience, for others a hindrance.

For those who fall into the latter camp, the Museum of the Moon concerts in Queens’ Cross Mackintosh Church are a godsend, a six-week series of events to celebrate the great Glaswegian architect’s 150th birthday. Concert goers can marvel in the master’s architecture – the only church he ever designed – and revel in artist Luke Jerram’s moon installation. The bands curated to play are either as integral to Glasgow as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, such as tonight’s headliners The Pastels, or resonate with the celestial theme.

Themes for Buildings and Spaces, the debut LP from the evening's first supporting act, Dundee’s Andrew Wasylyk, was surely written for gigs like this. Though conceived around the shifting cityscapes of the east coast, its soundscape fits Glasgow and Mackintosh’s gothic architecture – looping pianos, imposing horns juxtaposed with genial guitarwork and soft percussion, by turns peaceful, brooding and eerie.

Following is Modern Studies, a Glasgow/Lancashire folk outfit who are performing their sophomore record, the aptly-titled Welcome Strangers, which is less than two weeks old. It’s chamber pop with strong celtic overtones, rock with amelodic wind chimes, cello and harmonium – guitarist Rob St. John’s deep, foreboding intonations contrasting songwriter/multi-musician Emily Scott’s soaring vocals. Victorian yet elemental, Modern Studies’ music perfectly fits Mackintosh’s church and its moon, ebbing and flowing like the tides. A familiar DIY haircut can be spotted in the second pew; Stephen “Pastel” McRobbie is quietly enjoying the performance. St. John stops between songs to thank the audience and The Pastels, and then somewhat bewildered, the moon in our midsts.

In the near sold-out gig, there is excited anticipation amongst the pews. The church is full but there’s space to sit and enjoy, aisles to dance in, beers in place of bibles and freedom to gaze up to Mackintosh’s beautiful, abstract stained glass windows, a signature chair instead of a Madonna and of course, our dark alien guest, the moon. In our collective chattering elation, most of the audience don’t notice Glasgow stalwarts The Pastels, bedrock of our Scottish indie scene, have started to play – a beautifully dreamy instrumental building gently into a loud wall of sound that quiets the congregation, the audience slowly hypnotised under The Pastels’ sumptuous dream gaze spell.

Their mastery of light and shade continues with Secret Music, a quiet ballad sung by drummer/vocalist Katrina “Pastel” Mitchell, from 2013’s Slow Summits. It’s intimate and gentle, and speaks to the hidden gems of Glasgow’s buildings and its inhabitants – the unknowable interiority of every one of us, the church, the natural negative spaces that organically grow secretly in a city. It builds to an intense crescendo – louder than its LP counterpart – the question 'Can you sing a song quietly?' becoming beautifully ironic.

The ever-unobtrusive, genial McRobbie speaks. “We thought quieter music would work better in this space but I guess rock'n'roll would too,” he half-asks shrugging, and to collective laughter the band breaks into a driving rendition of Wrong Light. It’s dreamy indie pop, somehow still gentle but LOUD. It’s a slice of sonic heaven that only The Pastels could supply – lo-fi brutalist naivety, melancholic, romantic lyrics, that honest and exuberant sound.

As the hot summer night unravels, the uncanniness of the moon installation intensifies. Far from being high above and removed from the audience, the internally lit orb, seven metres in diameter, hangs low, close to our heads and the stage – too big for its space and all the more ridiculous and beautiful for it. Its surface, accurate and to scale using NASA imagery, is hyperreal – at once surreal, fake and eerily rich in naturalistic detail. It’s a strange, inhuman guest imposing on the band. As The Pastels energetically play through Night Time Made Us, Summer Rain, Mandarin, Fragile Gang and Baby Honey, all the surreal paganism of playing to a giant moon in a Mackintosh church is refracted back riotously onto the audience.

The Pastels break only to tune up and for McRobbie's earnest, self-proclaimed but decidedly not “rubbish” patter. His love for Glasgow shines as he mumbles about the church being his favourite Mackintosh, the surrounding Maryhill, Partick Thistle and a talented local seamstress who took in a pair of leather trousers that are sadly “done now.” The penultimate Kicking Leaves is a decidedly West End song, and ending with If I Could Tell You, ever the supporter of Glasgow’s indie scene, McRobbie plugs a gig at The Art School with Happy Meals. Wonderful and baffling, we stumble home in the city heat forever changed by our beautiful, bizarre experience.

Museum of the Moon runs at Mackintosh Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow until 24 Jun