Dean Engle of the Quarterbacks and Dr Wook at Mad Hatters on 16th September. A review.

Wednesday evening saw a Netsounds sponsored event at Mad Hatters featuring two contrasting solo artists. The last few times I’ve caught Dr Wook he has been accompanied by former band-mate Pel (Paul Elliott) on guitar (read the review of Dr Wook support Mark Morriss) . This evening he has mixed it up a wee bit, no Pel, but no loops or signature kick drum either, and the banjo and acoustic guitar have been left at home as well.

Dr Wook 1 200x300 - Compare and Contrast
Dr Wook

So, stripped back, electric guitar and one of the finest rock voices in the Highlands and I’m pleased to say a familiar six-song set. And isn’t that always one of the defining dilemmas? I’m caught between wanting to hear new material and worried that one or some of these songs that I like so much might have to be deleted from the set list.

This evening was the first time I’d heard Dr Wook play the Damien Jurado cover ‘Sheets’. New to me in every sense, but it is a well judged addition to the set sitting comfortably alongside the likes of the self-penned ‘Never Behind’, ‘Down the Line’ and ‘Time Will Tell’.

Meanwhile, Dr Wook has joined the roster of acts at IMOUT, the Highlands new (and first) record label. Last time I caught Dr Wook in May there were rumours (which he started) of a follow up EP this autumn. Given the new label it makes perfect sense to delay that and personally I’m pencilling in February as a release date. As ever, well worth waiting for.

From a typically intense muscular set that was more shade than light to something completely different: the yin to Dr Wooks yang was provided by New York based fey punk pop outfit Quarterbacks guitarist and vocalist Dean Engle. He wore his Squire Telecaster high and his trousers short and he was clearly utterly at ease on stage. A loose laconic delivery with stretched vowels and consonants – that were just as likely to be suddenly clipped – had me hooked.

Quarterbacks 7 300x200 - Compare and Contrast
Quarterbacks guitarist and vocalist Dean Engle

Dean had a flat, fragile, off-key (almost tuneless at times) vocal style, with words and melody sometimes drifting away and threatening to leave the building. He also had an uncanny ability to segue seamlessly into the next song without anybody noticing. It took me a minute or two to realise this, by which time he was on his third or fourth song. It really was quite hypnotic.

The songs are short: witness their current (eponymous) release with 19 songs in just under 19 minutes and you get the picture. With the shortest song (The Dogs) coming in at 27 seconds, they make The Ramones look over-indulgent. Musically, they clearly belong to that C86 generation and wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 70’s New York scene featuring CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. There is an air of intellectualism about Dean but the occasional literary flurry aside that’s where any route back to Reed or Byrne has to stop because he drops that baton and picks up on the typical indie male fodder of the many aspects of love: unrequited, longing, coming of age and loss all feature highly.

That said, I like the way they go about it, it is a hatful of mournful, ironic and witty vignettes laced with insight and self-reference. Take for example the opening stanza of ‘Lost Boy’:

THESE CHORDS
HAVE PROBABLY BEEN USED
A THOUSAND TIMES BEFORE
TO WRITE SONGS ABOUT GIRLS

Or to ‘Simple Songs’ and what amounts to a personal pop manifesto:

I BELIEVE IN POP MUSIC
THE WAY I WISH I BELIEVED IN GOD
COMPLETELY
AND WITHOUT QUESTION
I WISH THERE WAS
SOMETHING HIGHER
THAT I COULD SUBSCRIBE TO
TO GIVE MY LIFE
SOME DIRECTION

CUZ I DON’T HAVE
A LIFE PLAN
I JUST HAVE
THIS LITTLE BAND
SIMPLE SONGS
WITH SIMPLE CHORDS
BUT SIMPLE SONGS
WON’T SAVE YOUR SOUL

THE ONLY THING
THAT SPEAKS TO ME
ARE CATCHY MELODIES
THE SAME CHORDS
ALL THE TIME
E C G
THE ONLY DAMN THING
THAT SPEAKS TO ME

On the night I thoroughly enjoyed Dean Engle’s performance and particular brand of music, I’d love to see the full band live, preferably in New York. Stand out’s for me (where I managed to spot them) were, ‘Stay In Love’, ‘Center’ and my personal favourite ‘Pool’.

It really was an evening of stark contrasts but one that by accident or design absolutely worked. A bold move on a Wednesday evening that saw a decent crowd sit quietly and listen to two very different artists.

Photographs of the evening.

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Life-long engagement with music and a truly eclectic taste (although prog-rock and metal will usually have me scrambling for the off button). If pushed, I would have to say the Velvet Underground are one of the most important band’s of all time. Although I consider myself first and foremost a photographer, as regards reviewing I guess I cut my teeth in the vibrant fanzine scene of the 80’s. Around the same time I started taking photographs and, to be brief, performance and photography were made for each other: perfect match.