Music to sway to at Pearl Street

By Garth Brody

On Tuesday night, Scottish indie-popsters Camera Obscura filled the Pearl Street Ballroom with an easy warmth.

With the drowsy but radiant baroque pop of The Papercuts, the ballroom was already swaying dreamily – They sounded equal parts Beach House and The Zombies. It’s fortunate that these openers were less energetic than the headliners (or maybe there were just fewer people in the band), because the stoic stage character of Camera Obscura could have been a let-down after anybody more dynamic than The Papercuts.

Instead, the euphonic atmosphere built gradually. So when Camera Obscura’s frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell broke into “My Maudlin Career,” the title track off their most recent album, the energy was concentrated in the music. There wasn’t much seen in the performers with the exception of trumpeter Tim Cronin, who split his duties between his primary instrument and various percussion, including glockenspiel and maracas, the drummer’s cymbals.

But the band’s relative immobility did not detract from the performance. It kept up a certain dynamic interplay. Keyboardist Carey Lander, who did about as much moving around as a keyboardist could – which is to say that she sometimes removed a hand from the keys and allowed herself some slight grooving room – exchanged periodic sidelong grins with Campbell.

The subtlety in the visual performance underlined the delicately crafted simplicity in the music. Gone were the sweeping string arrangements like those of “Careless Love.” The band surrounded Campbell’s lovely vocal hooks with a balmy wall of guitar, punctuated by bouncy keys and drums. The effect was a uniformly satisfying experience that recalled the mono sound of classic 1960s pop. Phil Spector would have been proud.

The band’s set drew mostly from its two most recent albums, “Let’s Get Out of This Country” and “My Maudlin Career” – where the two biggest crowd-pleasing highlights of the night were fittingly derived. From the former, they played the wistful “Hey Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” instantly recognizable from the theatrical organ lead-in. From the latter, they played the more upbeat “French Navy,” the final song before the encore. The band performed the set’s tunes faithfully, delivering completely on their recorded charm; Campbell’s voice was just as disarming in person as on the albums.

The music had just enough range to maintain interest throughout the set, and the tight structure of almost every song didn’t hurt. The group dipped into the more obvious country influence of their earlier albums, but the occasional lazy drawl never distracted from the music’s core attitude. With compositions so heavily steeped in tried-and-true musical tradition, it was easy to get lost in the perfected pop style.

The apex of the show’s energy was reached with the closing track from “My Maudlin Career,” the ebullient “Honey In the Sun.” Even if the lyrics told a story of disappointment and regret, the song sounded like its title, channeling concentrated musical joy through fluttering vocal and trumpet melody lines. With a rhythm far peppier than anything else played that night, the song was a blinding light in the set’s fragile glow. Everything that followed looked a bit dim in comparison, but dim was the brilliant tint of their music.

Camera Obscura’s concert was like a warm bath. Even before the openers plugged in, the P.A. scored the stage set-up with songs to sway to, like Beach House’s “Gila” (three times, in fact). The atmosphere was consistent – dreamy and easy – and the music was simple, loud and pleasant. The encore closed with the sole glorious rock ‘n’ roll gesture of the set – a beautifully protracted noisy outro. Guitars raised, they held the last note until the room was soaked in it.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]