Live Review

Alt-J, Disused Office Block, Manchester

Tonight Manchester’s newest architecture is home to the North’s most exciting new sounds.

On the surface, a gig in a disused office block sounds like a great idea. Images of cracking walls and remnants of strip lights hanging from the ceiling only add to the excitement surrounding this phenomenal line-up of ‘New Sounds of the North’.

But the reality is a little less rustic. The office in question is part of one of Manchester’s newest developments of shiny glass towers and pristine grass squares. Security guards eye up the punters with trepidation.

The room upstairs is vast, and surprisingly full ahead of openers PINS. Light seeping through gaps above the blackout curtains invades the atmosphere slightly, but blazing red lights colour the stage.

All dressed in black, PINS stand silhouetted as their distorted post-punk sound projects a wall of noise so strong the vocals are made distant and ghostlike. The only sounds powerful enough to pierce their riffs are the distinctly pin-like guitar licks that prick up the ears of an audience entrenched in their calmly confident performance. While their sound is not the most original of the night, it is one that taps into the pulse of this defiant city.

Great Waves turn the mood tranquil with projections of warm, fuzzy images of blooming flowers. Their sound is slow and heavy; its ambience meditative, yet powerful. Great Waves are the sort of band you don’t need to dance to. Theirs is an atmosphere for quietly absorbing, as their heart beat-like bass drumming sets us all at the same pace.

The energy of this office block is all over the place tonight. After drifting into a wonderful haze, the crowd is suddenly perked right up by the arrival of Stealing Sheep. Their harmonies are dreamy and their vocals mesmerising and beautiful, but this is a band with movement-inducing rhythm. The sunny disposition of the three girls on stage dictates that as the intrusive natural light fades, the real party can begin. Stealing Sheep are a band you can’t help but enjoy.

Next up is perhaps the most intriguing event of the night. This is No Ceremony’s first ever gig. Third on the bill and playing in front of a large and easily distracted crowd, the pressure is firmly on. It sounds like a gamble, but somehow it comes off. In fact, if this had never been announced as their first gig, it is doubtful anyone would have realised. No Ceremony stand suited and proud of their floaty, bass-heavy and rhythmic sound. They are a rare example of a band who dares to hone the music itself without rushing into adding that third dimension of live performance. But judging by their confident ability to hold even a weary audience’s attention, they already know what they are doing.

Alt-J may be our headliners tonight, but for many this is the act they’ve been waiting for. Fast assuming cult status among their followers, everyone here knows Money are going to be good. More than for any other band so far, people move and sing along, shouting song requests at intervals. It is yet another stunning performance, flanked by captivating projections that finely capture and contribute to Money’s presence. Sneaky grins from the band hint that this is an audience of friends, but take nothing from the sincerity behind their soaring melodies and poetic lyrics.

After what is widely dubbed ‘the longest sound check ever’, Alt-J finally arrive gushing about the significance of this gig and proclaiming Manchester to be their ‘real home town’. And with the way they perform, it’s not hard to believe them.

Hearing tracks like ‘Tessellate’ and ‘Breezeblocks’ live confirms their status as some of the most unique and likeable songs to be released this year. Where long sets of unknown tracks can often induce fidgeting and murmuring, when Alt-J play the unfamiliar they only enhance an audience’s intrigue. Every second of this performance is appreciated to the full.

Final track, ‘Fitzpleasure’, creates a storm of movement with its ear-melting bass, and for three and a half minutes the room is a blur. Then the strip lights flick suddenly and mercilessly on and the world’s best office party comes to a close.

As we leave kicking through puddles of beer cans the once disappointingly new office block seems absolutely fitting. Tonight Manchester’s newest architecture was home to the North’s most exciting new sounds. As has always been the case, this is a city looking forward.

Tags: alt-J, Features

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