“It’s called... ‘The New One’!” announces Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, promoting his indie supergroup Tired Pony’s second album The Ghost Of The Mountain with a suitably schmindie level of marketing skill.
Being unkind to the amenably bantering, genuinely enthusiastic Lightbody on this big night, Tired Pony’s only UK gig this year and first in five, feels like booting a puppy, but yet... the temptation to suggest that it’s hardly any wonder he can’t remember the name of his own album given what’s contained within is insurmountable.
The general air of good-natured muso self-contentment that snugly muffles tonight’s gig aside (an all-seated venue and REM man Peter Buck’s quite unbelievably smug guitar face probably doesn’t help), such is the gentle, ambling, jangling nature of most of these songs, that the pleasant weariness of Tired Pony’s trail soon turns sour.
The music of the band - also comprising, along with Lightbody and Buck, singer-songwriters Iain Archer and Scott McCaughey, producer Jacknife Lee, Belle & Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn and a host of motley guests and sidemen - is always lovely, but also, as the gentle mournful country of "All Things At Once", with hints of Fleet Foxes, and winsome, yearning opener "I Don’t Want You As A Ghost" cloyingly comfy. Despite a guest vocal (and bonus dad-dance) from REM’s Mike Mills on the mandolin-jangling, sad-and-softly shambling "Point Me At Lost Islands" and Editors’ Tom Smith mooing away over The Good Book, Tired Pony sound at their freshest when they’re furthest from their roots.
Anything that strays too close to late-period REM country-tinged autumnal tones suffers from the fact that Lightbody’s voice, though yearning is his stock-in-trade, doesn’t have the fragility and emotional complexity of Michael Stipe’s. Anything that leans too close to Snow Patrol’s doe-eyed indie balladry suffers from the fact that this muso-cushioned setting doesn’t have the impetuous explosiveness of that band’s best songs (c’mon, everyone secretly likes "Run", admit it). "Ravens And Wolves", though, with its dark and moody rock workout and the funky, krauty groove of "Punishment" raise the pulse. The best, though, is the Talk Talkish, sly new-wave pop tones of "The Beginning Of The End", Lightbody and Archer splitting vocal duties to enlivening effect.
All in all though, at the end of this long set, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Tired Pony’s titular nag, knackered as my ears are. Nice banter, after all, only gets one so far.