Moonlight Pioneers
International Airport, Monorail, Glasgow, 23rd August
OK, this is slightly gratuitous, but it made my night / year / life. Stocking up on CDs in Monorail before the gig (dangerous, as I haven’t been in for several months. If they did shopping baskets they’d ruin the indie kid population of Glasgow at a stroke), and Stephen Pastel’s on the till. I ask him about one of them, Colleen’s ‘Mort aux Vaches’, which I’ve picked up partly because ‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’ was lovely, but mostly it’s the pattern of silver dots on the white fabric sleeve, standing out like spiral braille through the cellophane. Through the centre is a paper fastener, which holds the CD in place. It turns out there’s a whole series of ‘Mort aux Vaches’ CDs, all by different people, all with the paper fastener. A gloomy twist on La Vache qui Rit cheese triangles. Poor cows.

After he’s cleared that one up, Stephen asks, ‘Do you sometimes write for Tangents?’ I’m confused. ‘Yes... . How did you... recognise me?’ Pausing because it’s such a ridiculous thing to say. Given all the Pastels-related gigs I’ve been to (because of course Stephen, though he hasn’t been making many of his own records recently, is at the centre of such a rich seam. His Rebellious Jukebox alone makes a good ideal for living, let alone Monorail itself, and Geographic). Given that he’s the pop star and I’m the fan. Given that I’ve just handed him a bank card with my name on it. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ says Stephen, amused. ‘I like your writing.’ Holy shit! Did that just happen? Do you know how much The Pastels mean to me? How much I love that dumb thumping intro to ‘Exploration Team’ and the way you sing, serious as all hell, ‘Everyone should have a friend / To share your life and your heart’? I’ve said it here before, no life can be complete without Mobile Safari in it. ‘Thank you,’ I say, and repair to the bar. Transaction concluded. Good times assured.

International Airport shouldn’t make sense live. Their records are slow accumulations, stalagmites drawn drip by drip from landscape and overheard conversations. I picture them spending the times between records going about their business, returning now and again to a spare room in a semi with an eight track and lots of wires, dabbing a splodge of fuzz bass here, a streak of melodica there. Standing back with seven tracks full, and thinking, cup of tea in hand, ‘Now, where can the vocal go?’ I love their two LPs dearly, though I couldn’t name most of the songs, couldn’t hum more than a few tunes out of context. They seem not to exist from a distance: their treasure is all in close-up, in the tiniest details. Put your ear to the ground as they approach, hear the drum machine and feel the moss. After a while a tune and a non sequitur will fly up against the sun. At first you’ll want to squint, to see what’s going on. Until you realise, basking’s where it’s at.
The first time I saw them they didn’t have a record out, or maybe just a single. They were supporting The Pastels, probably borrowed a few for their set. It was just before Christmas, and Ali Roberts from Appendix Out joined them for a hilarious and adorable version of ‘Little Donkey’. I had a friend staying at the time, and he did impressions of this for years afterwards. Not terribly good impressions, but the point was that this kind of slowed down, luxuriant, anachronistic take on a carol, for Christ’s sakes, was so out of step with the fin de siècle world that it was at once quaint and revolutionary. I mean, I hate Scotland as much as the next Alan Horne, but confronted with such warmth and awe, what are you going to do?

Back to the present, and International Airport are trying to condense their carefully assembled fragments into something a four-piece band can play. ‘Association’ comes early on, great as a statement of intent, but too fast, it gets a bit lost in the blur. Then they swap instruments and start to relax for ‘O Lago Temporário’, Tom behind the drum kit on guitar, bass drum and singing all at once, looking like he must when he writes new stuff, absorbed in the sound and the physicality of the instruments. There’s a woman who isn’t Aggi doing her singing bits and alternating between drums and accordion. An accordion’s more rockist than a melodica, right? Reading Simon Reynolds’ Blissed Out this week, I found myself wondering about the pop / rock divide. The authenticity = dull = rock vs. spangliness = the thrill of the new = pop idea. Where would International Airport fit? They’re all about the thrill of the old: the countryside, the ‘lasting marriage’. Drawing on the laid back repetitive sound of Pastels songs like ‘Cycle’ and ‘Frozen Wave’ (which they elaborate, make more homely), they also continue the older band’s theme of friendship. Both bands are above all about personal authenticity. But they’re so into the surface of the sound, how can they be anything but pop?

The woman who isn’t Aggi sings in a more sprightly way, and while that’s probably rockist too, it works really well, contrasting with Tom’s trademark diffident delivery. Particularly on ‘Cyclionic Lanes’, in which she sounds positively French (think I might just mean Laetitia Sadier) on the ‘ba da bup ba da’ part. We leave them rocking or popping or whatever out to ‘Movement - West Coast Ferry Slip’ (with the great line ‘the water’s coming up over my laces / And turning them to slime’, somehow triumphant), crossing our fingers for more of the same, sometime.

To be followed by Quasi, the headliners, and since I’ve never heard them before all I can say is that they rocked, they rolled, they were as American and energetic as Intl. Airport were British and static. They too swapped their instruments around, but were a whole lot more wanton with them. The synth, still in its transportation box, was labelled ‘Fragile’, but I can only assume that this is a lie, designed to make customs officials’ jobs marginally more interesting. My sister reckoned the intros were better than the songs (the intros were pretty spectacular - big ‘will I come in or won’t I?’ piano / drum duels), but I dunno. So I’ll shut up.

© 2006 Chris Fox