Thursday, 9 December 2010

with Stuart Warwick and Plank!
Deaf Institute, Manchester
14th November 2010
Rating: 4/5

Apparently I missed the first band on. My bad, really. Worse than that, I actually got chatting to them by accident at some point, and have since forgotten their band name and failed to look them up. I suck.

Right, so apologies out of the way, let's talk Plank! As luck would have it, they are actually about as essential as the exclamation mark that concludes their bandname; from an unconvincing start, their songs became gradually more and more interesting, until with a righteous guitar solo in their penultimate number, they'd completely won me over. They are great, and if you're into that kind of looping, math-meets-prog thing, they are definitely the band you've been waiting for. They even did a kind of stadium rock flourish in their last song that was distinctly Who-like. Excellent!

Now, when you go to a lot of gigs, you're eventually exposed to a little of pretty much every genre out there, and you quickly become very hard to be surprised by anything. The most pleasant surprises of all are when sheer musicianship wins through and somebody merely doing what they do incredibly well becomes the greatest virtue, ahead of originality, stagecraft or whatever.

That's not to say that Stuart Warwick doesn't have an original sound- he has, but at the same time it's definitely from that same bizarro-world of popular music from which Imogen Heap and Charlie Barnes have descended. Simply, it's one man and a piano (or, for one song, two men and one guitar) playing post-rock-pop, with a lot of loops. Stuart's voice is definitely of the Buckley school, and it's very compelling, to say the least. The songs themselves are occasionally bitter, occasionally sweet, and rather more often, bittersweet.

The crowd is finally won over when Stuart abandons an out of sync loop and cashiers a track, saying “I guess this is God's way of telling me I shouldn't play that song”. I think I speak for everyone present when I say we were sad to see him leave. If you're reading this, open up another tab and go and find him on teh internets. It's not hard (I managed to) and you will be rewarded.

Finally it was Vessels' time in the spotlight. I've actually had the good luck to see this band a surprisingly large number of times, both at festivals and in support slots, sober or too-drunk-to-remember, and everything in between. The thing I can't help thinking tonight as I sit in the strange theatre seat section of Deaf is how much better this band get every time I see them. My first impression, way back when, was of a band rather too mathy for my tastes, but today they are on fine form, sprawling and dramatic.

I'm not going to go into the nature metaphors; it's post-rock done well, and you should know what that sounds like (hint: Hammock or 65daysofstatic). Most encouragingly of all, the tracks I don't recognise (the newer ones) are much stronger than the ones I do, suggesting that their impending album is going to be a corker. Stuart obligingly hops back up to the stage to sing recent single, 'Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute', and again reminds me of that little itch I felt when first hearing it and wishing that this collaboration would become more permanent. Oh well.

That dispensed with and the audience satisfied, Vessels cracked out a hammer-of-the-gods finish and then made their exit, but not before thanking the crowd for actually being arsed to come down. Nice. 

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