LIVE: Vinnie Caruana / Murray Macleod @ Boston Music Room, London

By Rob Barbour

Murray Macleod – the Cobain-haired, girlfriend-threateningly handsome frontman of The Xcerts – can sing. Like, really sing. That he’s in possession of a strong and distinctive voice isn’t in question this evening. The question instead is “What time is Vinnie Caruana on?” and for many, the answer appears to be “In an hour, let’s go to the pub.”

As it is, Macleod’s set is gratefully received by the hardcore faithful singing along and attentively listening to anecdotes about waking up in Watford, told with a charm and warmth lacking from the songs themselves. The Xcerts have always come across, to my ears at least, better live than on record. But penultimate song and set highlight ‘Aberdeen 1987’, with its passionate singalong climax, only serves to highlight the lack of truly memorable songs elsewhere.

Macleod was knowingly and sportingly facing an uphill struggle, though, playing before an underrated, understated genre legend. While rarely as celebrated as contemporaries like Geoff Rickly and Chris Conley, Long Island stalwart Vinnie Caruana has been diligently putting out some of the best records that (most) people have never heard since the late 90s. It may only be with reunited Drive-Thru Records heroes The Movielife that Caruana finds himself on stages anywhere near the sizes he deserves, but wherever he appears one can be assured of effortless charisma and captivatingly raw vocal performances.

Material from solo debut ‘Survivor’s Guilt’, mostly dispensed early in the set, lacks the familiarity of fan favourites like ‘Hand Grenade’ and ‘This One’s On Me’ and displays an undeniably darker, slower side to Caruana’s writing. His trademark, confessional chit-chat style takes the edge off brutally honest new solo tracks like ‘Angel of the North’, but we’re not sure they will necessarily join the fist-in-the-air singalong oeuvre of cathartic anthems such as ‘Brooklyn Dodgers’. But when delivered in That Voice, by a man who holds a room in his hand simply by stepping up to the microphone, it’s all golden.