Camera Obscura is a bit like a liquor-filled chocolate: something that at first seems dark and sweet but very quickly reveals a pungent center with a potent kick. The band was assembled in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1996 by vocalist/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell, percussionist/vocalist John Henderson and bassist Gavin Dunbar and gained some notoriety with its early singles (“Park and Ride,” “Your Sound”) and the Rare UK Bird EP.
CO’s debut full length, 2001’s Biggest Bluest Hi Fi, became a favorite of legendary British DJ John Peel, who championed the song “Eighties Fan” straight into his yearly Top 10. (Peel eventually invited the band to put music to some Robert Burns poems and perform them at his annual celebration of the Scottish writer, and it released Peel’s favorite, “I Love My Jean,” as a single in 2005.)
Just after the tour for Camera Obscura’s second album, Underachievers Please Try Harder, Henderson split from the band, eliminating the boy/girl vocalizing that had been one of the band’s hallmarks.
In his absence, Campbell has stepped up to become a fairly amazing frontwoman in her own right; 2006’s Let’s Get Out of This Country was largely perceived to be Camera Obscura’s best album and might well be eclipsed by the recently released My Maudlin Career, an orchestral Pop triumph produced by Jimmy Webb that lilts and punches like Neko Case fronting The Smiths.
If you aren’t yet wise in the ways of Camera Obscura (and shame on you if you’re lighting candles for Belle and Sebastian and don’t know CO), you can check out A Band Beginning With C, a recent documentary about the band, on YouTube. Or just go to the show and prepare to be delighted and astonished and moved.
(Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.)