A review of the underappreciated ‘00s indie legends return to Glasgow’s Oran Mor - a joyful set performed to an adoring West End crowd.
The date is Thursday 23 February and it’s time for my first gig of 2023. Tonight’s a performance I’ve very much been looking forward to for a long time. Having been a fan since my student days, I’m absolutely buzzing to see We Are Scientists!
For me, We Are Scientists are an artist I associate with a certain period of my life. They soundtracked my freshers year at the University of Glasgow a decade and a half ago - the tunes from their debut With Love And Squalor receiving a regular appearance at pre-drinking sessions and the daily commute to campus. So it feels appropriate their return to Glasgow this time round is to Oran Mor, a venue only a couple of football pitches away from the educational establishment I’ve come to equate them with.
The short walk from Kelvinbridge Underground station to the venue can’t help but bring back the nostalgia. Youngsters are everywhere, a daunting prospect at first. I move to the side of the road to allow a student running club to brush past, whilst bohemian dressed students spill out of the nearby bars and cafes - the very same places I frequented all those years ago as a careless teenager. It would be easy to feel a touch out of place being over a decade their senior, but this insecurity thankfully doesn’t last too long as I soon enter a crowd of guys and gals in their mid-30s seeking to re-live their youth at tonight’s gig.
Before the New York via California headliners take to the stage, I’m in nice and early to check out support act Bleach Lab. Last year I made a pledge to make time for the support band and tonight this one (like Wunderhorse back in November) doesn’t disappoint. Granted they need to overcome a rusty start.
The South London band begin their set to only a handful of curious onlookers. By the end of their 30-minute set, the venue has filled up to around two-thirds capacity and this is marked by a performance which improves in quality as the gig develops: vocalist Jenna Kyle takes a couple of songs to find her voice. When the rust wears off, the band perform with such elegant beauty and I stand there in a trance-like state sipping my craft beer in admiration. A wonderful mixture of jangle and haze, the majority of the tunes coming from November released EP If You Only Feel It Once. One band I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on moving forward!
We Are Scientists step onto the stage to a hero’s acclaim and begin on the emotion of ‘Lucky Just To Be Here’ from their latest effort Lobes. Last month I was surprised at how much I enjoyed their eighth album studio album, a record with a late-night synth pop vibe and their biggest change up to date. Tonight is no different.
Tracks like ‘Operator Error’, ‘Settled Accounts’ and set closer ‘Less From You’ go down an absolute storm and the crowd’s response is revealing also. They enjoy these as much as the classics - a reaction you may not expect watching a band now in their second decade.
Midway through the set, I receive a shoutout (of sorts!) myself. On Tuesday night I posted a comment in reply on the band’s Substack site following a debate around what songs to play live, making requests for ‘Nice Guys’ and ‘Return The Favor’. Imagine my delight then when they’d quote the request, play both songs live and dedicate the former tune to the “anonymous” requestor!
Which brings us to one of We Are Scientists’ enduring qualities: their onstage banter. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve never seen a band so at ease on stage. The mid-song patter is celebrated with as much joy as the music. Keith and Chris gently make fun of the crowd for being future criminals before joking (or maybe not?) about their desire to relocate to Glasgow. Their quick wit is a constant highlight: two guys swigging their bottles of beer and ribbing each other as if they were long-lost best mates on a night out we’ve also been invited to.
In fact, one highlight is when they cut short their explosive 2021 single ‘I Cut My Own Hair’ for some hilarious crowd interaction before seamlessly launching straight back into the chorus. As expected, indie disco classics like ‘The Great Escape’, ‘Inaction’, and ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ from 2005’s With Love And Squalor are celebrated with smartphone recordings, boisterous singalongs and sporadic bouncing.
‘After Hours’ (from 2008’s Brain Trust Memory) is arguably their biggest single to date, gaining a healthy amount of exposure on British radio and MTV at the time. The tune brings about arm-in-arm solidarity and a wave of shuffling from tonight’s audience – one of many memorable set highlights.
With flashbacks to March 2014, when I saw them for the first time at Glasgow’s abc venue, I leave Oran Mor tonight with another big smile on my face. A quick pint in the nearby Hillhead Bookclub is consumed afterwards and it feels appropriate to reminisce about student days and how heartwarming it was to see We Are Scientists still as enthusiastic and carefree as they’d been when I’d gotten into them all those years ago. Tonight they offered a fantastic set full of classic indie anthems and fresh tunes from their new record: a band still very much there for us and as full of life as ever.