Where do you put a band who, after fourteen years of radio silence, return in 2014 and, after all that time, decide to set off on the road on a four-date tour across the U.K.? Answer: the Summerhall in Edinburgh – host to emo-rock quartet American Football, playing in celebration of their second album in two decades, American Football.
When we think about emo music, the Illinois band is not the first that springs to mind for our generation of My Chem fans and From First To Last enthusiasts. However, that is exactly the word to use – reaffirmed by lead singer, Mike Kinsella’s, choice of clothing: a purple t-shirt with ‘SAD SONGS’ emblazoned across the front.
Their mix of compressed, clean toned guitars with a variety of percussion – and, of course, the trumpets – simultaneously contrast and complement lyrics about heartbreak, longing and small towns. It’s pretty much as emo as you can get.
Summerhall was decorated with sunset lighting, a haze of fuchsia and tangerine which set the atmosphere beautifully. Support was provided by Kinsella’s side project, Owen. Blending singing, spoken word and a clean-toned guitar, Kinsella warmed up the crowd with a pin-drop performance armed only with his Fender and his pedal. The soothing ambience was somewhat disrupted however by the sound of hand dryers which drilled across the hall periodically, and his work, whilst beautiful, admittedly felt a bit like American Football B-sides. Nevertheless, by 9:15pm, the audience’s lips were wet with anticipation for the main event.
There were two types of fans in the crowd: fans who had been around in the late nineties for American Football’s debut, and fans who had got into them during their very, very, very extended hiatus, a testament to the band’s cross-generational impact. In an era of ‘dropping’ albums out the blue and instant downloading, American Football are a rare example of a band who, despite remaining largely on the fringe of the music industry, continue to enchant audiences of all ages. Opening with cult favourite ‘Where Are We Now?’, Kinsella and co calmly and effortlessly work through their set, pausing only briefly to ask the crowd “is there anything you wanted to talk about?”. It is undeniable that the band love what they do, shown by the goofy smiles across their faces when they perform. Uncaring of if they look cool, uncaring if they sound good – a truly raw, unrehearsed performance.
Kinsella’s charm on stage encapsulated the essence of American Football: this band speaks to the underdogs and the outcasts, the uncool kids with long hair and ill-fitting Nirvana hand-me-down t-shirts. Ending vibrantly with the classic ‘Never Meant’, the audience was left with a bittersweet feeling in their mouth – is this just a fleeting romance, or is this the beginning of a career that should already be celebrating twenty years of success?
American Football, above all else, make music for themselves. So long as that joy continues, we can be hopeful that we will see much more of the Illinois quartet in the near future (at least in the next decade, eh boys?).
By Kristin Hay
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez