Edinburgh Corn Exchange - 03/02/02

The Edinburgh Corn Exchange is only a couple of years old and is basically an
alternative to the Glasgow Barrowlands Ballroom with less character. It looks like a
J.D. Wetherspoon`s from the outside with a light aircraft hangar stuck to its arse for a
venue. It was the first time Toots and I had been there so I spent the best part of
Sunday afternoon trying like stink to find out just where the fuck it was. Some mates
had been there before to see various assorted shite i.e. Ash, Slipknot etc. “Ehhh, you go down Princes Street then take a left, nah that's wrong, you go halfway down Princes Street, hop over into the taxi lane, that takes you to the Train Station and fuck I cant remember what happened after”. Cheers for the help lads but I'll take my chances with a map.

We totally fluked it, we had a rough idea where it was in relation to all the other shit in
Edinburgh so we jumped in my trusty M Reg Ford Fiesta put the foot down and
powered through one set of traffic lights after another and kept motoring down the one
street and as luck would have it we landed right on top of it. We were early so we
went for a Pizza Hut (I recommend the twisty crust with that dipping thing,
ahhhhhhhhhhllllll!!!!). By the time we went back the doors had opened, we grabbed the
opportunity to have a quick smoke and then entered looking like the son and daughter
of Howard Marks. They pretty much violated me at the door, turfed me through a
metal detector then came a thorough frisking by a big bearded security dude (much to
Toots` amusement - she got through without a hitch). I was waiting on a full cavity
search but got through with my pipe and the stash still intact.

We didn’t have to wait long for Witness to come on, the crowd seemed pretty eager
and gave them a warm welcome. They opened the set with a new track which in truth
was an absolute corker, I hear the name is “Numbers”. I was inebriated at the time but
it reminded me of a cross between “Til The Morning” and “Audition” (if you can
picture that). The crowd loved it as well and gave them a pretty big cheer.

“Warning Song” followed, that's what makes the live Witness experience such a
godsend, “Warning Song” was one of the last songs I expected them to play, not
because I think its a bad song, but because its a song that they seem to have avoided ever playing live before. Gerard in particular seems to be letting himself go onstage, he was moving around a lot more and belting out the lyrics when the opportunity arose. I don't know if he smoked less weed before going onstage, by the look in his eyes that wasn't the case, it seems as though they all have gained in confidence where playing live is concerned. There was more looking into the crowd and feeling the music instead of standing still,  watching their fingers which was a criticism aimed at the band by reviewers of their early shows.

“My Boat” was next on the setlist. If the departure of Julian Pransky-Poole has left any noticeable difference to the overall sound it is most evident when playing the
big-sounding rockier tracks. The piano parts that Julian played were shifted onto Ray's guitar and therefore the extra-heavy edge was lost but they pulled it off even though it wasn't as heavy, Gerard made up for it in vocally giving it his all during the chorus and it actually sounded really good stripped down to twin guitar, bass and drums.

When the applause for such an energetic track died down, Dylan kicked off the
downbeat throb of the bassline to signal the beginning of “So Far Gone”. The whole
place stood perfectly still, all eyes on the stage, Gerard put on the fragile tone to
accompany the opening lines “unfortunate wasn't it”, the audience remained silent, well apart from the odd “wahey” and “go on yerself” from the back. It was shaping up to be the most powerful rendition of the song I had seen. Then just as the “with their dirty hands fuck up your records” line was emitted from the speakers. One of the clowns on the mixing desk did their best to ruin the moment. “Noooooooo!!!!” I thought to myself as the screens for the Embrace show at the left and right hand side of the stage clicked on, displaying a menu screen with various options. “Dammit!!” the audience were now distracted from the song and were staring at these screens waiting for something to happen. The band exchanged confused glances, Gerard simply grinned to himself and within the space of about 5 seconds the crowd was back focusing on the band. “You know we're only so far gone, I'm happy to go anywhere just so long as I am moving”, John kicked in with the battering drums and Ray played the atmospheric wall of sound a treat. I was finishing off a pipe and was now floating on the sound, heads were nodding as John's drumming grew more intense, Gerard's vocals and Ray's guitar soared with emotion and the appreciation for a genuinely gorgeous song reverberated round the hall. People were clapping before the song even finished. It must have given the band a tremendous lift. 

It was time for another new song. Gerard announced it as “One Is What One Is”.
Witness have never been a band who write a song then later on write another song
which sounds the same, every song they write sounds like something they have never
done before and this one was no exception. The hook of the song was Ray's guitar riff
comprised of fast strumming while running his fingers up the neck, reminiscent to the
style of Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead. If the standard of the music penned for the
next album is in keeping with what we heard at this gig then it is another diamond from what has to be the best kept secret in British music.

“Still” a song which was missing from this set is one of those special songs that you
hear once in a lifetime, its a song you want reserved for your funeral, if you hear a
song in the same league as “Still” its rare that you hear a song to match it from never
mind the same band but any other band for the rest of your music-loving days. Witness have matched their towering achievement that is “Still” with a song named “The Ending”.

The ominous opening bars of “Cause And Effect” followed. It's Witness at their
darkest and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nine Inch Nails record. Well, maybe
Nine Inch Nails without the pretentious satanic posturing. A guy who I used to be at
school with was at the gig and I saw him after Witness finished. He said Witness were shite and sounded like Proud Mary. He obviously wasn't listening or didn’t understand cos “Cause And Effect” aint Proud Mary.

They closed the set with “Pushchair”, it's another song that could have suffered
without Julian to add his guitar parts. Apparently Julian was drafted in to help hold it
together when playing live as most of “Before The Calm” was written and recorded in
fragments and they hadn't been playing as a band very long. Julian’s legacy in Witness has to be that they have got their shit together playing live. Like I said “Pushchair” could have suffered due to fewer hands, but they have got the essential parts of the song spread evenly between each member. Sure it sounds more stripped down than on the recording and they will struggle to recreate that “bigger sound” of the “Under A Sun” album in the future as a four piece but they seem to know what their roles are within the band. Such was the confidence on stage, Ray seemed to fancy a bit of improvisation and towards the end of the song where it starts to sound a bit drunk, he started to bend the strings and fart around with the sounds of his guitar, it looked as though he wasn’t far off doing a “Pete Townshend” and smash it up onstage but he gained control of himself and the song came to a close along with the set.

I feel confident enough about the gig to say that Witness have won plenty of new
admirers and I'd imagine sales of  “Before The Calm” and “Under A Sun” will take a
sharp rise in the Edinburgh area over the coming weeks. Those who aren't rushing to
the shops are most probably impressed enough to say that the support band at the
Embrace gig were good and those like that dude from my school just need to get their
ears checked. Fuck that they need dragged to a shrink.

The thing that was so satisfying about that performance was the way that they won over a large crowd with no gimmicks. Just purely great songs on display. Its encouraging considering that they probably have won as many fans for themselves on this short supporting tour as Universal/Island have won for them with the recent poor promotional activity around "Under A Sun". To simplify the feeling, they made getting up on a wet Monday morning and going to work all the more bearable in fact they made it insignificant and that's the great thing about great music.

Greig Martin



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