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Live Report: Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert at Leaf Liverpool
Patrick Clarke , November 12th, 2018 15:49

Surreal and sarcastic, moving and masterful: a wonderful set from recent and forthcoming releases plus daft jokes

In Liverpool’s Leaf venue, Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert have a perfect home for songs from their warm and wry new record Here Lies The Body. “It’s the first time I’ve been upstaged by a potted plant,” says Hubbert from behind the foliage that flanks them, to a crowd lit by candlelight and sat on mish mash of tables. Above them, the ceiling is covered by disco balls.

‘Fireside’, the first track from Moffat & Hubbert’s forthcoming Ghost Stories For Christmas, opens the set with a flourish. Tonight they’re joined by Jenny Reeve on violin and occasional vocals, and her strings soften the edges of Hubbert’s deft acoustic guitar into something beautiful and transporting. Moffat’s rich, deep vocal joins them as they flick smoothly through to ‘Cockrow’. ‘Mz. Locum’ follows with the singer adding a rhythmic kick on the single large drum that stands in front of him, alongside a cymbal and two microphones, one of which distorts his voice when a whispering aside should be needed.

Moffat is dry, witty and open-hearted. “I think introducing a song by talking about the toilets isn’t the best idea,” he says before ‘Everything Goes’, having just warned us of the perils of having a large Mexican dinner before playing a show. “So instead let me introduce this song by saying it’s all about the breakdown of a family unit.”

It’s these deft twists of tone that makes the pair brilliant – they talk about ill-advised Mexican dinners or Moffat’s ever-shortening shorts on his summer tour with Arab Strap and then play songs that are tender, bare and often deeply sad, without letting the atmosphere stray from an overriding sense of warmth. They can rib each other over false starts, play childishly with the plants on stage, or tease the audience for not loving Blackpool as much as they do; we are with them all the way.

Hubbert’s chat is more sarcastic and gently surrealist. “You’re not happy just making humans fucking miserable, no?” he chides the singer before ‘The Wolves Of The Wood – another song about the breakdown of a family unit, “except this time it’s about wolves!”. Before ‘Zoltar Speaks’, which inspired the design of the tea towel they’re selling by the entrance, he delivers a grand, deadpan monologue as he mercilessly flogs their merchandise. “You wouldn’t look at me and think ‘tea towel aficionado’, but I’m a complex man. I fucking love a good tea towel. If you bought two and sewed them together they’d double as a pillowcase they’re so big. Twice as many dishes dry, and twice as many smiles.”

Reeve chimes in from time to time – “I cannae deal with this!” she says as Moffat and Hubbert riff for slightly too long about an abandoned wolf pup dying alone in the woods – and the repartee between the three is an essential part of the show. It adds a lightness of touch, fosters an honesty and intimacy. But, of course, it is musically that they really have the power to move. Moffat’s drumming gives a subtle intensity, while Hubbert is nothing short of virtuosic on guitar. With sweeps of violin from Reeve, the three create something that is profoundly emotional. The material from their forthcoming Christmas LP blends well, even if Hubbert protests that “it’s November the bloody fifth!”

Right at the end comes perhaps the set’s highlight, a cover of Rosalie Allen’s ‘Hitler Lives’. It’s introduced with a reference to the attempted far-right march that was recently chased from the city by a righteous counter-protest. “Hitler lives / If we forget our fellow man / Hitler lives,” sings Moffat as civic pride fills the room, another tender flourish from a show that’s brimming with emotion. It is sad, funny, mournful and proud; it moves its audience in every way.