"When the night breaks and the clouds shake..."
That's my way of saying a belated Happy Hallowe'en, by the way.
So, while I realise I've been neglecting this blog somewhat as of late, I retain the right to neglect it whenever I want. It's not like it's a child or a pet or anything. It doesn't need regular feeding or sunlight to stay alive. In fact, I think it grows in character if it's left to gather dust for a little while, before blowing off the dust and remembering why you started it in the first place gives you a little more of a thirst or a hunger to keep it going.
Anyway, in short, I think that my mood of the other day was partly due to being a bit bored more than anything. I mean, yeah, I've got my worries and my problems and sometimes they can get the better of me, but there are millions more people out there more worse off than I am, so why mope when you can just get back on the horse, so to speak, and indulge in a bit of what you love. So this is me, bouncing back, Alan Partridge style.
Here is an account of my two-day dalliance with the annual unsigned free-for-all that is In The City.
Every year, around the arse-end of October, Manchester goes absolutely batshit for live music. I mean, we're pretty fucking cuckoo-bananas about gigging up here anyway, but there are countless hardy souls who dedicate five days out of their year to going temporarily deaf and increasing the chances of contracting cirrhosis of the liver later in life, all in the name of In The City.
For those who don't know, In The City is basically an industry shindig, where an absolute fuckload of unsigned bands, along with the odd signed one, converge on Manchester to try and get noticed, much like performing seals begging for fish. In the past, In The City has helped to 'break' the likes of Muse, Coldplay, Keane and The Darkness. So, it's clear that ITC must be stopped. I went to see a handful of bands on Sunday and Monday who, in the main, tried their damnedest to ensure that the A&R men stay at home next year.
SUNDAY 29TH OCTOBER: Break In The City @ Walkabout
I fucking hate Walkabout; the risible 'Australian' chain pub that is so fucking fake, you half expect Alf Roberts to serve you. It's about as soulful a live music venue as Belsen, so thusly, you have to be something of a special act to avoid going down like the proverbial lead balloon.
So I was surprised then to find the sight for sore eyes that is Ebony Bones rocking the stage with a delightful riot of colour, poise and sass. Like a hybrid of The Slits, The Cramps and Amazulu (ask yer mam), Ebony Bones are one hell of a good time party band. It's just a damn shame that I only catch the last three songs, one of which was a bastardised cover of Delta 5's 'Mind Your Own Business'. They're a band after my own heart and the best I saw all day. Only I didn't know this at that point, so I foolishly stayed.
Next up is Dublin's Butterfly Explosion, who have got the post-rock thing down to a tee, but end up being just a vaguely unsatisfying amalgam of about a hundred better bands. Ooh, that bit sounds like Mogwai! That bassline is just like a Sigur Ros tune that I forget the name of! That keyboard player looks like a bit like Billinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine! When it's more fun to play spot the reference than get lost in the music though, you know that this band are wasting your time and theirs.
Can Teasing Lulu's glamour punk fare any better? Only slightly, is the answer to that. They make a point of beckoning people to move forward and giving it a bit of 'tude and some of their tunes lean towards backing up their moxie, but again, the reference points are too obvious and too plentiful and, in the end, that feeling that you've heard it all before returns. While there's essentially nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve, in Teasing Lulu's case it just feels a little protracted. Nice hair though.
A rather misguided friend of mine told me a few months ago that, despite the fact that their singer, Rupert Hill plays Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street, Shepherds Pi are actually really good. He was wrong. He was so wrong in fact, that I'm considering never talking to him again. The sub-Libertines bollocks that Shepherds Pi peddle is, in my opinion, possibly the most offensively bad music I've heard in a long time and I've heard The Fratellis. Making matters worse, their bass player gets up on the mike every odd song to indulge in a little ill-advised rapping/scatting. This is the aural equivalent of rubbing salt in the wound. You know how when your ears ring, it's a little unpleasant? Well, I'd rather hear that any day of the week than have to suffer the godawful hackery of Shepherd's Pi again.
Next, a slight upturn in fortune with the arrival of the not-unpleasant, Sean Redmond. He's a cocky little fucker with some scrawl on his guitar ("I bet you've never seen anyone do this before", I think it said) and a glittery Bathing Ape t-shirt on and his music is, as I said, not unpleasant. Just nothing to write home about either.
I feel a little sorry for Midnight Juggernauts when they come on, seeing as they're Australian and having to suffer the indignation of playing in a fake Aussie bar, miles away from home. However, despite their hotly-tipped nature, I'm not hearing anything to inspire me. You can lump them in with fellow antipodeans, The Presets and Cut Copy, as they do that electro-rock thing but I kind of hate that stuff at the moment. I don't hate the concept, just the execution. Most of these bands are so ham-fisted at the whole endeavour that it ends up sounding hideously lumpen and completely personality-free. I hear that you and your band have not sold your guitars and bought a vocoder. I hear that you and your band have heard a Daft Punk record and thought, "I can do that". I hear that everybody that you know is getting into French house, ten years after everybody that I know. Have you seen my records?
I feel a little bad now for heaping so much scorn on Shepherd's Pi earlier in the post as the next band to take the stage are light years ahead of them in the terrible stakes. Their name has been bandied around for quite a while now as ones-to-watch and Tony Wilson even signed them up at one point, but Young Offenders Institute are quite possibly one of the worst bands I've ever seen.
A bunch of roughneck, council estate scallies with nary an ounce of talent between them, YOI draw trhe biggest crowd of the day; a crowd filled with roughneck, council estate scallies nonetheless. Words fail me really. Young Offenders Institute are laughably bad. It's as though they all decided to go out and buy Definitely Maybe one day and all come to the decision that 'Digsy's Dinner''s, like, a fucking top song. It's not, it never will be and neither will you guys ever be anything resembling a decent band. Just. Give. Up.
So we exit the Walkabout before the end of YOI's clod-hopping bovver-boy rock set, disheartened and more than a little tired, but decide to give this In The City lark a second bite of the cherry the next day.
MONDAY 30TH OCTOBER: Tiger Lounge & Pineapple Folk @ The Waldorf
We head down to Tiger Lounge, intrepid, yet harbouring realistic ideas that the likelihood of finding the next big thing may well be out of our grasp after yesterday's fiasco. The Philadelphian mavericks, Man Man are at the forefront of our thoughts for the night ahead. I was champing at the bit, dying to see them, if only to salvage the two-day sojourn, but not really knowing what to expect. My companion is less than convinced, having heard only one song and "really hated it".
They're on later however, at The Waldorf, and the reason we'd plumped for the Tiger Lounge first was to see my mate's band, Doublejo(h)ngrey and whatever else is on the same bill. When we arrive, there's a band called Duty Now onstage, doing the whole Joy Division/Interpol, post-punk thing in a not unpalatable way. In fact, in contrast to the shite we saw yesterday, Duty Now actually sound pretty decent. Maybe it's only relative, but it's a slightly promising start to the night.
iDresden have a terrible name and a bass player who looks like he shouldn't even be allowed in the venue, on account of his young appearance. They are, however, not all that bad, in a kind of spaz-pop, Les Savy Fav-esque kind of way. I could imagine jumping around to these guys when I was younger. Nowadays, I'm far too old and far too cynical to do stuff like that, so I sit at the back, sipping my JD & Coke, whilst nodding approvingly.
Next, a band who I don't catch the name of come on and noodle about for ten minutes or so, until the drummer stands up, throws his snare over his shoulder and the rest of the band follow suit in trashing their equipment. I'd be impressed if there was any hint of danger, but the fact that not one member of staff rushes over to stop them, gives me the impression that this is just something that they do all the time.
Shit! It's 9.45 and time to pop over to The Waldorf to catch Man Man. Sorry mate, I'll just have to catch your band next time. In fact, we forgot to figure in the erratic nature of ITC's running orders, so we get there about halfway into a set by The Nightjars, who sound pretty good, in a kind of steely, humourless way. We see too little to make a judgement though, but the fact that loads of people actually pile out after them speaks volumes, I guess.
Watching Man Man set up is part of the show itself. The upstairs room in The Waldorf doesn't have a stage as such, so the band are set up on the floor, with the crowd encouraged to come as close as they desire. Honus Honus and Pow Pow (not their real names) are up front, with their keyboards and drumset respectively, but it's the odds, ends and accoutrements that seem to cover every available surface that really intrigue. There are Hallowe'en-y fairy lights that look like eyeballs, a squeezy Bart Simpson doll, a beanie rabbit on top of the hi-hat and a load of other bric-a-brac, making me wonder if these are all good luck charms. Are Man Man really that superstitious? Oh, and there's also a tomato with a moustache that looks uncannily like Honus.
After taking forever soundchecking, Man Man leave the room, only to return five minutes later, decked out in P.E. kits. Yep, it's white t-shirts and spray-on white shorts all the way for these guys. This is a signifier of the workout that's to follow. They lead off with 'Feathers' the piano-and-voice opener from latest album, Six Demon Bag, before launching into a full-on hour of power, barely stopping to catch their collective breath (their reasoning for this being that "when you go to a club, the DJ doesn't pause after a song").
I've seen bands do this kind of breakneck speed before, but never in this manner. All those bits and bobs are used in some way, either squoze or hit or thrown about, but it never leads to complete chaos. Okay, it's chaotic, but Man Man always seem to have a grip on the mania. Every little quirk or jump or musical non-sequitur is executed with the precision timing that comes with an almost psychic connection between band mates. The wheezy, fractured, junkyard rock of the records is recreated so perfectly and with such kineticism that it's all you can do to just stand there, agape, occasionally smiling a smile that you know is going to be hard to budge.
Highlights of the set include the band using the walls of The Waldorf for percussion during the muted climax of 'Black Mission Goggles' (one of the few moments where the pace drops), Honus reaching out into the crowd with a drumstick at one point, briefly playing some poor sap's knees like the spoons, Honus again, hurling a handful of stainless steel spoons at a brushed metal pudding basin, just to recreate the sound it makes and Pow Pow bringing his foot down onto his snare in a dazzling display of ambidextrosity.
By the time the band reach the girl-group coda of 'Ice Dogs', with Honus donning a black sequinned vest and affecting the desperate croon of the hammiest lounge singer, jaws are on the floor, expectations have been met, surpassed, lapped and blown off the face of the earth and the unbelievers have been well and truly converted. They come back on for a tender rendition of 'Van Helsing Boombox' that acts as the perfect comedown after one of the most thrilling, high-energy live shows I've ever seen. Man Man may well be the greatest band in the world; a brilliantly realised unique voice in modern music that I urge you to seek out.
Or is it all relative still? Have I seen that much disinterested, rote dreck over the last couple of nights that anyone who does anything vaguely different will seem like the second coming of Elvis? Well, a lot of it may well have been dreck, but given the size and scope of In The City, I'm pretty sure there were plenty more acts on over the weekend that were way more deserving of our attention than most of these were, so I'm not about to give up on the Manchester music scene just yet. One thing I am certain about though; I bet not one of them were anywhere near as good as the mind-fuckingly excellent Man Man. We could learn a lot from them.
In other news...
Today's Derek and Clive-influenced post over at 20 Jazz Funk Greats is, without question, the best thing I've ever read on a blog. Good work, guys.
Also, check out Mattie's gold grills in the rather fun new Rapture vid for 'Whoo! Alright! Yeah! Uh-Huh!'.