Hip hop group Stanley Odd more than lived up to their headline billing at Neu! Reekie! last night, jolting Mareel’s seated audience into life after more than two hours of polished – but slightly numbing – poetry.
The group’s combination of searing lyrics, artful musicianship and a captivating stage presence had a potent effect, inducing great helpings of awe and even a little audience participation.
Before the arrival of the main act, however, the assortment of offerings, taken collectively, managed to be both impressive and somewhat limp at the same time.
For all the pre-show buzz and whispers that this would be an eye-opening gig, ripe for a young, restless audience, at the end of the day it was, unmistakably, a poetry night.
Rock ‘n’ roll it was not.
Nevertheless, Neu! Reekie! founders (and the event’s compères) Kevin Williamson and Michael Pederson had evidently sought to appeal to a wide variety of tastes, some more acquired than others.
Poetry readings from Williamson and Pederson themselves were followed by contributions from Shetlander Roseanne Watt (with boyfriend Stuart Thomson on guitar) and Jen Hadfield, the latter having lived in the isles for a number of years now.
The compères’ respective comic efforts raised a chuckle, while the more serious writings of Watt and Hadfield were met with respectful silence and warm applause.
Watt’s poems in Shetland dialect were particularly memorable, helped by her serene fluency as she read.
Yet this was not pulse-racing stuff – that much goes for most poetry, it has to be said.
Perhaps recognising this, Williamson and Pederson interspersed the readings with short films.
The change of pace, while broadly welcome, could not help but come across as slightly jarring.
Indeed, it is not often that a broadcast of Danny MacAskill’s mountain biking exploits is put on the same setlist as poems about ecology.
MacAskill aside, the films tended to be quirky, mind-bending affairs fit only for arthouse screenings.
They were amusing, if not entirely accessible.
When Stanley Odd entered the fray for the final 45 minutes, the dynamic underwent another shift, pushing towards the edges of “mainstream”.
But it is not a fine line: Stanley Odd are certainly not mainstream.
And neither are its members’ side projects and alternative group personas, some of whose music was given an airing, too.
Depending on exactly which outfit’s music was getting played, the lyrics ranged from political tirades to ruminations on family life, touching on fatherhood and a sibling’s death.
All the while, the songwriter’s sharp wit and biting intelligence shone through.
Throw in the skill of the musicians and there’s no need to question why Stanley Odd have become so well-loved among hip hop fans across Scotland.
Ultimately, though, Neu! Reekie!’s component parts – deliberately uneasy bedfellows – were hewn together to produce a garbled poetry show that could never fully satisfy.