Manchester Academy 3
Wow. There are a lot of great gigs happening this month. The latest in the spree I've been to comes courtesy of Oceansize, and boy, was it welcome.
But first, there was Tubelord. Whilst they did put on a mighty effort, and their songs showed some interesting twists and turns, it was all rather business as usual in the we've-bought-some-post-y2k-Sonic-Youth-albums-and-want-to-play-prog camp. Their better passages were reminiscent of the guitar howl of Biffy around Puzzle, with some Errors-esque electronics thrown into the mix, but my overriding impression was of a band not yet fully there. Nevermind.
Of my regrets (and there are many...), in recent times one stands above all else- my rather lukewarm review of the new Oceansize album, the verbose Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. On repeat listens of a appropriate quantity (a minimum of twenty, in case you wondered), all of its subtleties really do unfold, and, let's be honest, for 'Silent/Transparent', 'Pine', 'Oscar Acceptance Speech', and 'It's My Tail...' even from play number one the quality was obvious.
This isn't an album review however; this is a live review. After a serious setback to my day, not to mention the unwelcome rain, I arrived in the lowest of spirits only to find the venue had been downgraded from Academy 2 to 3; a venue I really have spent too much of my Manchester life in. I felt a little sad that a band with as extensive a back catalogue and ostensibly as loyal a fanbase hadn't grown in size since their last album, the expansive Frames. Their new album even got 8/10 in the NME, for chrissakes, so where were the punters?
I needn't have worried though, because Oceansize provided an answer to all of my questions. Point by point, it went something like 'Part Cardiac', the rarely-played 'Music for a Nurse', 'It's My Tail...', 'Pine', 'Ornament', 'Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs'. Let's be honest, I could quote the entire setlist, but those were the highlights. In purest reviewing terms, 'It's My Tail...' won hands down for its frantic, spitting vitriol, echoed in gestures and shouting from the crowd, and framed by a meltdown of strobe lighting. Emotionally, however, it was clear that their lighter-in-the-air moment was 'Music for a Nurse'; looking around, everybody was singing along, and there were even tears in a few eyes. Well, why not? They scarcely come more moving than that. For 'Unfamiliar', some moshing started at the front, whilst handclaps were the order of the day for 'New Pin'. By the time that the circle pit had worn itself out in 'Ornament', it was abundantly clear that both the crowd and band were playing off each other in that special chemical way that only sometimes manifests itself.
Encoring with 'Women Who Love Men...', the band departed one member at a time, and spurred on by the audience keeping a regular clap where the beat had been, their three guitarists kept playing the outro riff. One minute passed. Two. Three. Four. The crowd and band gradually became less distinct as the notes became simpler, less defined, somehow hypnotic; the band were unmoving, the crowd transfixed. Then, suddenly, it was over; like a well-executed crossfade, the guitars left, replaced by cheers that lasted long after the band had left the stage.
I said of the new album that it wasn't the work of the same band that made me decide to move to Manchester. Maybe, maybe not, but that band was definitely the one I saw on stage tonight, and I'm glad I came.
With Vessels & And So I Watch You From Afar
Manchester Academy 3
After less than two minutes of the first band on tonight, And So I Watch You From Afar’s set, I already can’t believe that I haven’t heard of them before. Their math rock-meets- heavy grunge sound is so heavy that it rattles the bones, making a mockery of metal posturing, and yet their attitude is still identifiably alt rock, busting out the Sonic Youth stage moves and post-rock delay freakouts. Their last song sounds a little like a post-rock version of Radiohead’s ‘The Tourist’, but it’s ace anyway, so I’ll let them off.
Band two, Vessels, are rather less exciting. The stage becomes crowded with an additional member, and there’s a sense that the five-piece always has one person who is surplus to requirements. They go for a more pronounced math-rock sound, using fewer chords and a lot of modal riffs, blending it with a 65daysofstatic style electronic/shoegazing wall of sound. At times it’s very compelling, but in equal measure it sometimes falls completely flat.
Finally the band of the moment take the stage. They play most of the new Home and Minor EP, as well as some songs off their upcoming album. The best of these is a slower number that gradually builds to a washed out, echoing crescendo, and also worthy of mention is a more downtempo number called ‘Ransoms’ that even features a traditional-style guitar solo. Playing from their extensive back catalogue, the band reach for all three albums, playing ‘Unfamiliar’ from Frames, ‘Massive Bereavement’ from Effloresce (and live a reminder of why this band rightfully deserved more attention than their first record brought them), as well as ‘You Can’t Keep a Bad Man Down’, set highlight ‘Calm Offensive’, and penultimate song ‘A Homage to a Shame’ from Everyone Into Position. Bizarrely, they chose to end on a newer song, that whilst not bad really felt like sticking two fingers to the eager crowd. The two previous times I’ve seen the ‘size, they’ve closed on fan favourites ‘Catalyst’ and ‘Ornament/The Last Wrongs’, so when they left without an encore, the crowd having chanted ‘Catalyst’ excitedly at the band for the last fifteen minutes of their set, the mood in the room definitely took a turn. Even with the disappointing end, it was nevertheless a great set. Roll on album four!