Although Idlewild has become a mainstream act in Britain, here its career seems to have stalled. On Sunday night, the Scottish quintet drew a smaller crowd to the Black Cat than it did to the 9:30 club two years ago.
That might reflect some disappointment with the band's move from punk to punky folk-rock, but probably not. Its new album, "Warnings/Promises," continues a very gradual evolution and is hardly a dramatic break with its predecessor, "The Remote Part." Perhaps the problem is that, 10 years after it formed, Idlewild still doesn't know how to pace a live set.
Taken as a series of songs -- whether older ones such as "Little Discourage" or brand-new numbers such as "El Capitan" -- Idlewild's performance was irreproachable. The band was tight without being mechanical, singer Roddy Woomble could shout or lilt with equal authority and such textural digressions as acoustic guitar or electric piano didn't disrupt the central style. Yet the overall show was considerably less forceful than the individual selections. Even though the musicians didn't seem to be pushing themselves to the limit, they stopped to collect themselves after every tune, squandering the concert's momentum.
What worked in the group's favor was the quality of its songwriting. Whether stormy ("A Modern Way of Letting Go'') or serene ("Live in a Hiding Place''), Idlewild's material is well constructed and reliably melodic. But it's easy to see why fans who've seen the quintet a few times might decide to stick with the recorded versions.
-- Mark Jenkins