Camera Obscura Tap Audience 'Desire' on U.S. Tour: Concert Review

Matthew Allen
A well-balanced set list sated a capacity crowd, as the band launched a second U.S. tour supporting the year-old "Desire Lines."

Country songwriter Laura Cantrell opened for the Glasgow band, who have apparently found their niche stateside.

They may never have found a stateside fan base to rival that of their Glaswegian buddies Belle and Sebastian, but Camera Obscura have found their niche here. Launching a second U.S. tour supporting the year-old Desire Lines, they sold out shows in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, drawing on a fan base that's enthusiastic about more than just two or three favorite songs. 

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The room was already packed for opener Laura Cantrell, the Nashville-raised New Yorker whose strong country roots complemented a twangy vibe that has always been a grace note for the headliners. Inflecting their indie pop pedigree without drawing much attention to itself, this flavor is especially evident in songs incorporating pedal steel guitar: "Forests and Sands" and "Country Mile" each exploited the instrument's lonesome character for stories about relationships afflicted by both physical and emotional distance. On "Desire Lines," the pedal steel was a distant horizon, conjuring the sunny California landscapes that briefly draw the singer away from her lover. While some of the ballads sounded more sleepy than soulful, the encore number "Books Written for Girls" was more alert; Tracyanne Campbell's delivery of the song from 2003's Underachievers Please Try Harder was deliberate, more analytical than languid, as if she were evaluating the song's interpersonal dilemmas on the spot.

Midtempo numbers, like "Break It to Me Gently" and "New Year's Resolution," were the evening's least engaging, with the group's reserved stage presence dispelling the intimate mood of their perfectly produced recordings. Guitarist Kenny McKeeve and bassist Gavin Dunbar spent most of the evening looking toward the floor, projecting so little enthusiasm that it was almost shocking when they set their instruments aside on "Come Back Margaret" to lead some rhythmic handclaps.

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The crowd's attentive energy carried the set through its underwhelming patches, and soon enough the tambourines and trumpet came out, enlivening "French Navy" and the sexy "Do It Again." The set got considerably better as it went, peaking with a crowd-pleasing version of the '60s-flavored "If Looks Could Kill" and the Lloyd Cole answer song "Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken," whose soaring arrangement sounds considerably less brokenhearted than some of their more optimistic numbers. The string arrangements that rounded out "Lloyd" and "Come Back Margaret" on 2006's Let's Get Out of the Country weren't missed here; but it would be interesting to see this shy pop band play a larger hall with a bank of strings backing them up. Perhaps someday they can team with Belle and Sebastian for a tour, splitting the cost of bringing a mini-orchestra to support both bands.

Set list:

Break It to Me Gently
New Year's Resolution
Let's Get Out of This Country
Forests and Sands
Desire Lines
Honey in the Sun/Teenager
French Navy
This Is Love (Feels Alright)
Cri du coeur
Every Weekday
Country Mile
Do It Again
If Looks Could Kill
Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken
My Maudlin Career

Come Back Margaret
Books Written for Girls
Razzle Dazzle Rose