“This is turning into a weird gig,” chuckles Paul Smith, who is usually found fronting Maximo Park, as one surreal, comical, rambling anecdote crashes into another. As guitarist Paul Rafferty tunes up with a familiar riff, the trilby-wearing vocalist explains that the band can only communicate with each other via the medium of Dire Straits guitar solos. Moments later, Smith explains that the next song begins with the same chord as Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over, when the Intimations surprise him by launching into an impromptu version of it.
It’s that kind of night, and a far more intimate, live-wire affair than Maximo Park’s football match-like gigs, where crowds chant the choruses as the singer careers across the stage. Musically, however, Smith’s solo songs – heard on Margins (2010) and current album Contradictions – aren’t dramatically different from the Park’s, just a bit less hurtling, more introspective and subtly influenced by Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera.
With Rafferty playing like a 70s guitar hero, the krautrock groove of Reintroducing the Red Kite uses a bird of prey as a metaphor for someone who needs reacquainting with the world, and Smith’s wordsmithery produces sparkling lines such as “the golden glint of autumn”.
What he calls his “rockers” and “pop rockers” might not change the world, but an evening with him veers between rip-roaringly funny and oddly touching. The Smiths-y Break Me Down may or may not be “a smash hit in Luxembourg”, but lumps fill throats as he dedicates a beautiful Our Lady of Lourdes to singer-songwriter Nick Talbot, AKA Gravenhurst, who died last year. There is another quietly lovely moment when Smith returns, alone with a guitar, and While You’re in the Bath suggests the treasures that lurk just beyond his comfort zone.