Thursday, 4 February 2010

With Charlie Barnes
Manchester Academy 3
Rating: 5/5

After nearly dying several times on the way to the venue (two slips and a car whose driver really did not understand the implications of ice and friction), I arrived at the Academy. I’d heard the opener was some chap called ‘Charlie Barnes’- and was a little perplexed as to how he would sit along side the space rock power trio.

I was even more surprised when it turned out to be a skinny guy of roughly my age with a laptop, keyboard and a few guitar pedals.

I was even more surprised when he actually started to play.

By the time his first song was over, surprise had taken a spill out of the third-storey Academy windows and was lying broken somewhere on the icy Oxford Road below. My friend next to me put it best when he opened his mouth and said simply, “fucking hell. He’s amazing.”

Genre-wise I suppose Charlie is ‘Live Electronics’. Simply put, it’s loops and electronica, but done live via a lot of pedals and multi-tasking. I’ve already seen Terry Abbott (formerly of Vex Red) play with Fears a few times, so this frantic looping and layering was not totally unfamiliar to me. That said, there are very few people talented enough to pull it off, and Charlie is in a league of his own. His beat-boxed percussion loops and ethereal vocal harmonies evoked Chino Moreno, Yorke, Buckley and Bellamy without quite sounding like any of them. His third song was strongest, with vocal and percussion loops linked by subtle piano lines that guided the piece to a crushing climax. At the end of his set the mood was more like a rave in outer space than a rock show- even the prog-rock kids at the front were moving their feet. Fantastic. Put simply, Charlie Barnes is the single best unsigned act I’ve seen all year.

Before coming, I’d already decided that I was going to give Amplifier a four-out-of-five. I saw them live last year and whilst very good, they failed to quite hit that, well, eternal quality, that Other that makes a gig stick in your mind for good. After Charlie however, greatness was calling. Eternity gets played in full, along with ‘Motorhead’, (other requests include ‘Freebird’ and ‘Killing in the Name’, which is briefly obliged by Neil while Sel is tuning), ‘Post Acid Youth’ and ‘Hymn of the Aten’. The sound quality is notably better tonight, and the vocals cut through a lot more cleanly.

The songs almost don’t matter though. It’s more about the atmosphere- the interplay between crowd and band is completely organic, and between joking, thanks, shout-outs to friends and family as well as explanations about songs and band history the vibe in the room is warmer and friendlier than any gig I can remember. It’s nice to see Sel and the band play with the same honesty he described in interview; there’s an authenticity to the chemistry on stage when he thanks Neil and Matt for “putting up with his shit for ten years” that is genuinely moving.

In the sedate early numbers momentum is lost, but they also serve to show how far this band has come when later material is played. ‘Amplified 99’, one of their first songs is nevertheless a set highlight, and crowd pleasers ‘Half Life’ and ‘Glory Electricity’ are duly played as an encore. It is however in closer ‘Map of an Imaginary Place’, where they finally take flight- the gentle vocals and sedate verse guitars perfectly counterpoint the hugeness of the distorted sections, evoking that squalling drama that really sets Amplifier apart, and shows that while they may be ten years old, they are far from a spent force.

No comments:

Post a Comment