Monday evening in Manchester and frost is on its way. The forecast is snow and the streets are bare. Downstairs at The Peer Hat, tucked away in the Northern Quarter just off Stevenson Square, the Brooklyn based post-punk four-piece known as PILL are due on stage imminently. On arrival, guitarist Jon Campolo looks out and captures the energy of the room.
Within seconds, thoughts of being out on a freezing cold evening are forgotten as they kick into the blistering ‘A.I.Y.M?’, opener from their latest album ‘Soft Hell’, released a few months back on Brooklyn indie label Mexican Summer. Drummer Andrew Spaulding hammers away and catches the rumbling bass of Veronica Torres, as she shouts and coos in an almost Valley Girl style. Saxophonist Benjamin Jaffe gets down on one knee and covers the whole microphone with his mouth, the resultant feedback howling through the speaker. Later on he adjusts the levels on his amp with one foot and stands Ian Anderson stylee, the sax squealing as Torres shout ‘Am I Your Man?’
On ‘Empathizer (Rat in the Box)’, Torres hands her bass over to Campolo and he in turn bursts into a hypnotising, pulverising bassline as she contorts her vocals and screeches. It’s captivating on the verge of confrontational, at odds with the smiley faces that adorn the strap of the bass.
The majority of the set is “All new” we’re told, as they’ve not played Manchester in at least two years. Whilst tuning up, Campolo says “You guys are dead quiet, man”. Quick as a flash, someone up front retorts “So are you”. Campolo looks up and laughs at this, taking it on the chin. It’s not a big crowd but it’s an appreciative one. A few members of local experimental post-punk outfit DUDS are in the house and there’s a lad up the front who seemingly doesn’t stop dancing during their 40-odd minutes on stage.
From acerbic and in-your-face one minute to ludicrously groovy the next, on ‘Plastic’, Torres again hands over the bass to Campolo who backs her up on vocals and throws in the occasional whistle. Torres meanwhile dances about to the insatiable groove whenever she’s not singing. It’s when they come together like this that the dynamic shifts, Torres moving about the stage whilst the rest of the band lock into some mesmerising grooves, like on the dreamy ‘Piña Queen’.
Within a heartbeat it’s over, the band just as thankful as the crowd, smiles all round. This isn’t one of those Lesser Free Trade Hall Sex Pistols moments, but it’s very much in a similar vein. In this case, a dimly lit basement off the main strip with a band effortlessly putting on an incredible show to a small group of people who will likely talk about it for days, weeks, months to come. Right now it’s particularly what’s needed over these cold months – an escape from what’s going on outside.