Albert Hall, Manchester
The People’s Concert marks the 100th anniversary of an event of the same at this very venue back when it was a Wesleyan Church – it was nothing of any great significance – an old handbill given to the venue owners reveals a classical recital and a ‘humorous entertainer’ were on the bill back in 1917 but it’s good name for a shindig featuring several top bands for a very reasonable £20.
Girl Ray are on early doors but I only saw them a week ago and very good they were too (imagine The Raincoats produced by Nile Rogers) – so they lose out to pre-gig eats. I arrive in time to catch Boxed-In who I’ve see a few times. They’ve a very contemporary dance-pop sound but with that somewhat dour Hot Chip angle and are also named after a Francis Bacon painting yer see. They definitely win a few new fans as the venue gradually fills up.
Dutch Uncles are up next, they’re the main draw for me. I love their weird, skewed take on pop complete with odd time signatures, Xylophone solos, proggy keyboard workouts, Talking Heads/XTC style jerky weirdness and wonky dance moves. They’re well aware they’re not playing to their own crowd so they bring out the big guns and absolutely go for it – they play their most impactful radio-friendly stuff – a sort of ‘Greatest Hits’ set culminating with guitarist Pete crowd-surfing during ‘Flexxin’ which requires me bodily assisting him back toward the stage. They’re wonderful, as always and although I’d much rather see them in a smaller venue doing a full set, it’s always a joy to see them. ‘Streetlight’ and ‘Babymaking’ are particular highlights and the wrong-footing time signatures does not deter the dancing.
Field Music are up next. They choose to open with a new song, perhaps not the best move (although it was very good) but by now the venue has filled considerably with people who are mainly interested in headliners British Sea Power and the mood in the room seems to have changed. The audience chatting has escalated to a considerable volume and the BSP fans are getting restless, and the sophisticated Pop sound of Field Music sounds out of place. They’re slick and smart, like Blue Nile, Japan at their most sinuous or maybe Prefab Sprout. Fantastic for me – but maybe not for yer average BSP fans with babysitters to pay for – (and to be fair to them a 10.30 start time for their band) so it feels like they’re a bit up against it. They do their best, some choice cuts from their breakthrough album ‘Commontime’, and some old classics like ‘Them That Do Nothing’ and ‘A House is Not a Home’ go down reasonably well. They have a shocker though when a snare breaks and David attempts to fix a new skin to it mid-set at which point some of the BSP fans start hollering and heckling – it takes longer than it should -he looks visibly rattled – and eventually a spare snare is found and they carry on but it also means they need to cut the set short and it shudders to a halt somewhat. Definitely not the best environment to appreciate them, but the new stuff sounded tasty and suggests there’s a great new LP ready for 2018.
British Sea Power take to the stage. I’ve seen them a few times for reasons of socialising – they’re alright I suppose, but I’ve never really ‘got’ them. They’ve always struck me as very meat and potatoes Indie Rock but with a bit of window dressing – their designs are nice, they decorate the stage with bits of tree branches and wooden owls, they do a bit a stagey stuff with costumes and whatever a-la Flaming Lips but the music has never grabbed me. They don’t convince me otherwise tonight. At best it sounds like some of the less memorable tracks on Echo and the Bunnymen’s 5th album (the eponymous one). Although this was meant to be ‘The People’s Concert’ it’s now become another BSP gig and their devoted fans holler and sing along with abandon. I feel like I’ve strayed into someone else’s party. I’m struck by how similar each song seems like the last, how they only seem to use the same Major chords, how in spite of the fact they are held aloft as some great cult Indie legend there is nothing remotely interesting happening musically. I listen to 30 mins of it, finish my beer but I’m not into it, so I go home and listen to some cool records instead.
Early doors, happy, open minds and up for anything. Later doors – pissed and up for British Sea Power.
It made me think..
Interesting evening. I can only hope Dutch Uncles and Field Music taught BSP some new chords while they were hanging around back stage.
By the way – Perhaps it’s in the spirit of the Weslyean Methodists that built this venue originally that drinking is still somewhat discouraged in the Albert Hall, this being the Manchester venue where a Lager tops the £6 mark, unless you drink the dreaded Perotti – a sort of hideous variant of Peroni which tastes like the contents of a bar cleaners bucket but comes in at the slightly cheaper £5.40. Doesn’t stop some fuckwit Sea Power fans hurling said expensive concoction at each other.