[Thanks to newcomer Juan Fernandez for stepping in at the last minute to review this one – Braving the streets of Manchester on a Saturday to make it to this Christmas extravaganza. Thanks Juan – Andy]
I arrive at The Ruby Lounge, a somewhat seedy venue tucked underneath one of Manchester City centre’s more uglier structures, opposite one of Manchester’s equally ugly structures but for different reasons. It’s also sandwiched between a bookies and some escape-the-room type real life simulation thing. I attempt to imagine some sort of relevance to this but struggle doing so.
On arrival, I am doused with the fragile tones of Bridie Florence that hint at 60s folk, some Jeff Buckley and this earthy, swampy guitar. It’s delivered from the corner of the room, in front of a golden Victorian mirror hung on the ruby walls, with the sound obscured in reverb and the murmur of the crowd. Unfortunately, most of the crowd seem to lack the attention span to appreciate the subtly delivered dreamy pop before them, but it gives the place a nice ambiance regardless and it’s still pretty early; people aren’t pissed enough to feel comfortable stood next to each other and not talking, or maybe they’re too pissed to stand next to each other without talking. I can only speculate.
The oddness of the stage lends itself to the minimal set up and I’d like to see Florence play again, but perhaps in an odder, more intimate setting to compliment the tenderness of the delivery and give the performance the attention it deserves.
“Manchester get yersen round here, we’re Liberty Ship” I hear from the other side of the room in a Barnsley (I think) accent. They play high energy, brash, bluesy rock and roll. Some 12-bar progressions but elaborately structured songs that are pretty well written with hooks on almost every section. Some Zutons, some Beatles, some 60s and 60s revival and some garage vibes, but the ever changing structures are more of a pop thing and give an overall delivery that is more polished than the genres they reference in their sonic palate.
“He goes through about 3 guitars a gig soo bare with us”, proclaims the guitarist as the frontman breaks a string first song. It’s tight and well done party music that I feel would lend its self aptly to a BBQ and some beers in the summer in a Northern English back garden. Some tracks have more of an indie feel to them.
‘We all get high but we don’t know where we’re going to‘ is a lyric I catch. They play a 70s swing groove track followed by a more indie track with a riff that reminds me slightly of ‘Brimful of Asha’. The Guitar solos are all actually pretty sweet and the guitarists Gretsch flirts around pentatonic bluesy licks.
Between songs they suggest buying Liberty Ship T-shirts as Christmas presents for distant relatives as they’re £5 each and I contemplate this for a while, but don’t end up doing so. There’s an energy to the performance that I’m absorbing, catalysed by the beer I’ve been drinking at the back of the room. The songs are written well and like I said, there’s hooks all over the place. They play a track that’s got a 90s, almost Happy Mondays vibe to it, which I think is probably the strongest; the vocals are more subdued and part of the rhythm for the first part of the song. It actually becomes a bit more like Reef as the song progresses and the vocalist flexes his pipes, and a guitar solo with delay hints towards psychedelic territories that, again, are some of those 60s and 90s references that are pretty hot at the minute.
False Advertising play somewhat frantic stoner riffs that remind me of Reuben and Drenge and extreme sports. Some of the vocals actually remind me of, like, Destiny’s Child or something at some points, which is cool. There’s a nice contrast in dynamics between sections that works well, giving the compositions space when needed and adding to the weight of the heavier sections. They remind me also of Biffy Clyro back when they were good, perhaps due to the mix of emotive chords against discordance and the Fender guitar, Fender bass, drums set up. There’s some sweet and sporadic guitar lines that confront, challenge and attempt to intimidate the bass and manage to maintain intensity and the occupation of space that is sometimes lost with a three-piece band. It felt like a compositional decision more considerate of the overall timbre that most guitarists would lack enough sympathy to accommodate.
They play a few tracks where the drummer and (who I assumed was) the lead vocalist/guitarist swap over and the vibe takes on a lazier attitude that I prefer. They sound less like Biffy now and more like a slug the size of a lorry, scooting through the streets crushing Christmas shoppers and kitschy, overpriced wooden huts laden about the city centre that I have become tired of in recent weeks, that pose more of an irritation than the warming commodity they intend to be. I like the way the two vocalists voices sound together too. Usually I dislike when members switch instruments at a gig – maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist – but when these guys switch it up a second time, it still sounds fresh and gives a different dynamic to the band, keeping a healthy variation in style through the set whilst still sounding like and appearing to be the same band.
The second act I catch playing in front of the mirror is Natalie McCool. Again adopting a minimal approach, I like this stage set up but I am not fond of the vast looming void behind me, detracting slightly from the intimacy of the performance. The minimal guitar work hints at post-rock in places. Her white leather boots are pretty cool but hey – this is Natalie McCool. This minimal guitar work gives the vocal more room to play with, an opportunity that is taken advantage of.
This performance gathers more attention than the last one I watched on this stage and I hear a restraint in her voice that again contributes to the intimacy, as though the (from what I can make out – love) songs are not to be sung aloud and the vulnerable memories in subject are precious and personal. This intimacy I speak of is again tarnished, for me, by two almost identical bald men stood in front of me taking selfies on one of the guys phones, and I notice myself solemn faced in the background of one of the pictures as he presses snap.
She plays a Christmas song and it’s real fuckin’ good – maybe I enjoyed it more than the original. I’m a bit of a Scrooge but It’s actually real nice and makes me feel a thousand times more festive than I did earlier today, feeling like a tinned sardine across the road. She utilises a restraint in dynamic with a natural expertise, making the set soft, inviting and engaging.
I smoke a cigarette and get in conversation with the man who’s selfie I unintentionally ended up in. He talks about the cognitive positive effects of magic mushrooms (that I’m sceptical of) in an uninterruptible manner and I miss the first couple of tracks The Orielles play.
There’s a sweet vocal sprinkled atop a swing 6/8 track as I walk back down the long staircase into the lounge. A shower of guitar soaking the audience, a sweet wonky clunk of bass and rhythms, not overly frilled with fills but deeply galvanized with the bass rhythms probably due to some kind of black magic. The guitar occupies a similar territory in frequency to the vocal and gives the overall sound a disjointed emptiness that I dig, reminding me of being on the other side of the world basking in sun but thousands of miles isolated from the familiar, or sleepless nights in an irrelevant humdrum British town, a warm familiarity and an isolating bleakness, flailing about and becoming entwined with one another. They’ve got a surfy sound, which in turn reminds me of the sun and warmth and family holidays at the seaside, the overwhelming vastness and uncompromising power of the sea. Knowing that these guys are based near the sea in Liverpool, I hear that vastness in their sound but maybe I’m imagining this.
There’s a prominent presence to the guitar that seems, in some ways, to be confronting the audience with this vastness and is uncompromisingly attention grabbing. They voyage into an instrumental wall of reverb drenched sweetness that keeps changing tempo at the end of their set and i’m left pummelled and graced by it, that overwhelmingly massive wave again crashing over us onlookers and totally consuming us with their hollow endless blanket of airwaves, saturating us and taking us out with the tide where we can still see the shore but far enough to respect the real power they possess.
The Amazons start with a nice wall of noise before progressing into a set of melodic pop songs delivered in a distorted and relatively angular set, actually kinda reminding me of early Foo Fighters. The harmonies work real nice and the band is tight. Sounding abrasive and confrontational in places contrasting with sweet pop harmonies, the variation making both the melodic and angular parts sound in part more refined alike. Their sound is cutting and loud most of the time, complimented by delicate melodies creating an overall juxtaposing but not unfamiliar hybrid of brash carelessness and self reflective themes.
It’s ten o’clock and INHEAVEN enter to that ”Lady in the Radiator‘ track off Eraserhead, followed by a bunch of feedback, followed by a swarm of people arriving from somewhere I don’t know, followed by a behemoth of washed out pop, white, menthol and fresh. They’re clean and tight and I imagine floating above the city, its portrait distorted by the semioccasional clouds in the winter sky. They have a psychedelic aspect to them along with this pulsating battery of simple but engrossing rhythms.
Their second track reminds me of that Dario G track off the football for some reason. Track three takes a more garage feel, ‘baby’s alright‘ are some lyrics that stick with me, I imagine some delicate entity being protected and sheltered from the chaos of some sort of catastrophe. This in a way is reflective of their sound, some sort of fragility wrapped in a blanket amidst a barrage of pounding drums and saturated guitars. ‘You need somebody to love again‘ – that direct message of sentimentality spray painted on a decaying concrete wall falling down on top of you. The guitars are real nice and loud and powerful, at times obscuring the vocals but in an enjoyable way.
The new single features more vocal from the bassist; I think I prefer the dynamic that her vocal adds to the band over the guitarists, but either way it’s cool. There’s some Nirvana, Pixies and Melvins references in this track too and I enjoy it the most out of the set. But yeah, like I said, butterfly in a glass jar, wrapped in blankets, in the middle of a warzone.
Overall it was pretty sweet, good turn out, decent quality acts and featuring the side stage that I found particularity interesting. Nice one, Merry Christmas. Weyyyy.