Edwyn Collins
Bowery Ballroom, New York, March 14
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Admittedly, it’s with just as much apprehension as anticipation that I waited for Edwyn Collins to take the Bowery Ballroom stage Monday night. The former leader of Scottish post-punk pop greats Orange Juice had suffered a stroke in 2005 that left him barely able to speak and walk, and though his new album, Losing Sleep, due out in the States next week, showed that he has regained the use of his distinctive warbled croon, I still wondered if he was up to the demands of a live performance.

But though he used a cane when walking to his perch center stage and one could tell that speech didn’t come as easily to the notoriously eloquent talker as it once did, as soon as he began singing the title track to his new record, it was clear that the talent and voice remain. This was even more evident on the next song, a wistfully rendered version of “Dying Day” from Orange Juice’s You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. Better yet was a rollicking run through “What Presence?!” that showed Collins was up to some frenetic wordplay. But it was “Falling and Laughing,” Orange Juice’s first single, that made it particularly clear how very good his voice still is, rendering the classic pretty much note-for-note.

Though Sex Pistol Paul Cook wasn’t hitting the skins for Collins as he has recently, Collins’ backers proved versatile and up to the material, and the setlist itself was a perfect mix of songs spanning his entire career. “Make Me Feel Again,” from 1994’s Gorgeous George, was followed by more Orange Juice (“Consolation Prize”) and “It Dawns on Me,” from the new record, while “Wheels of Love” from 1989’s Hope and Despair, and the title track off of Home Again, the album Collins had just finished when he had his stroke, followed. Sure, it was great to hear the classics from his old outfit, but the solo material—and especially the new album—came off just as well. As he has done throughout his career, Collins meshed sharp-angled pop with blue-eyed soul and inflections of ska, reggae and world beat. This was most evident on the latter-day OJ hit “Rip It Up,” here accentuated with sax bleating.

Recalling the evening now, it seems hard to fathom that Collins was able to pack so much in an hour, even with a couple of false starts. He finished the proper set with “A Girl Like You,” perhaps his biggest hit Stateside. He returned for an encore that began with two songs from the new record: an acoustic take of “Searching for the Truth” and “In Your Eyes,” on which he was joined by one of the song’s co-writers, Jonathan Pierce of the Drums. Again, both songs reinforced the fact that even though Collins has been celebrated as of late for Orange Juice’s influence (check their recent boxset for further proof), he is still very much of the now—perhaps more than ever during his solo career. (After all, this was the first time he had been to the U.S. with a full band since 1997.) Still, it was the final song, “Blue Boy,” that stood out amongst the rest, the early single still ringing with vivacity and zeal. It was a fitting exclamation point on a night surpassing all expectations.