Craig Armstrong, Barbican, London

With a little help from his friends
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The Independent Culture

If you haven't heard of Craig Armstrong, you'll almost certainly be familiar with his work. The Glaswegian composer wrote the music for Baz Luhrmann's films Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge and, as tonight's programme boasts, has written scores for Madonna, Massive Attack and Björk. His forthcoming album, As if to Nothing, sees him collaborating with artists as diverse as Mogwai, Bono and Photek, among others.

Swirling atmospherics and the weaving together of disparate genres is Armstrong's stock in trade. Just to prove his worth, he's earned a few gongs over the years – Baftas, Ivor Novellos and so on.

Armstrong may be a talented man and have some trendy friends but he's certainly not big on conversation. Looking more like a bloke who's come to fix the boiler than a world-class composer, he lurks behind a piano and stumbles and stutters his way through the introductions. During the encore the name of a song escapes him – in fact, it's "Laura's Theme". Whoever Laura is, you pray that she's not here. Still, our host has brought enough friends along to take the heat off, among them the soprano Katherine Bott, Laub's Antye Greie-Fuchs and David McAlmont. For sheer effort, Evan Dando scores the most points, however. The ex-Lemonhead has flown all the way from New York to perform just one song, the thrillingly melancholy "Waking up in New York". It's all over in a few minutes, but it's by far the finest piece of the evening. The Indian singer Swati Natekar is also wonderful, chanting her way through "Miracle" while the London Sinfonietta get to let their hair down as they play alongside the lolloping groove of "Weather Storm", a track from Armstrong's first album The Space Between Us, though more instantly recognisable from Massive Attack's Protection.

It's in the second half that things start to go downhill. First there's Greie-Fuchs, a boffin in specs and a woolly hat, reciting a series of computer symbols in a monotone voice. Since she's lugged her laptop on stage with her, she might just as well let it do the work for her. Stephen Lindsay, formerly of the band Big Dish (no, me neither), gives Michael Ball a run for his money with "Let It Be Love". Then on comes Katherine Bott, dressed up to the nines, to sing a handful of notes that we can't hear. It hardly seems worth the effort. It's left up to the excellent David McAlmont to rescue things with a performance of "One Day I'll Fly Away", from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Suffice to say, it puts that Nicole Kidman in her place.

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