Mutation / The Empty Page @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester – 29th October 2017

Mutation

It takes a brave soul to venture out on the first Sunday after the clocks go back. Every instinct tells you to stay indoors, safe from the dark, the cold and the explosion of pre-emptive fireworks. Some may say it takes an even braver soul to leave the house to go and get pummelled by a band promising to make your ears bleed with their racket, but when it’s a trio as intriguing as Mutation, it’s one of those journeys that simply has to be made.

The Empty PageThe calm before the storm at Manchester’s appropriately-named Deaf Institute comes tonight from The Empty Page. Recent winners of Indie Week UK, if you went solely off the band’s debut record, you’d maybe think they were a bit of a “lighter” choice to open up for the brutality of Mutation, but in the live arena the band are surprisingly heavy. Drummer Jim, for the first time front and centre, is an absolute beast behind the kit, keeping things tighter than Scrooge McDuck, while Kel and Giz seem even more animated than usual, putting extra effort into teasing out the power and emotion from songs like Deeply Unlovable and Wardrobe Malfunction. Always engaging and entertaining in equal measure, The Empty Page have been going from strength to strength in recent weeks and are hitting top form as their micro-tour of Canada approaches.

As Mutation prepare to unleash their cacophony, the crowd seem wary of getting too close to the stage for a few reasons: a) It’s pretty high b) the drumkit is precariously placed right at the very front of it and c) Mutation make so much noise they’d get a dead elephant bouncing. In three albums, Ginger Wildheart and his merry band of miscreants (live, this means Scott Lee Andrews of Exit_International on bass and longtime Ginger collaborator Denzel pounding the skins) have created a wall of discordance so dense and arrhythmic that it was certainly an eyebrow-raiser to see a tour announced. 

How on Earth would three people recreate such a sonic maelstrom? Almost effortlessly is the answer to that. Openers Authenticity and Toxins from latest album Dark Black marry a Ministry-sized amount of bile with a strangely cathartic dose of euphoria while Friday Night Drugs and Carrion Blue throw that little Endless Nameless hook at you repeatedly until you nibble.

Arguably the star of the show is Vennart/Young Legionnaire drummer Denzel. Acting as ringleader, his position front of stage makes perfect sense, nodding at both Ginger and Scott to ensure they’re ready for the next onslaught before each and every song. As soon as he brings the guitarists in he transforms into a furious animal, pounding his kit so ferociously that cymbals start to escape from him, only to be brought back under control as white noise washes over us in between each song. Closing on an absolutely punishing Deterioration, there is a suitable finality to proceedings – no encore, no banter, we’re left with just the darkness and our ringing ears.

It’s certainly a divisive sound (interestingly there are only single figures of women in tonight; quite unlike your average Wildhearts-related show), but Mutation really gives Ginger an outlet to experiment and try new things even after 30-odd years in the business. For fans new, old, or of something else entirely, this is an absolute beast of a show that really has to be seen to be believed.

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Therapy? @ Manchester Academy 2 – 18th April 2015

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Therapy? – Hopefully going nowhere.

To get it out of the way up front, Therapy? are my favourite band. I’ve been listening to them on record and bouncing around to them in various states of inebriation live for over 20 years now, whether at Donington, at home in Bristol, at Uni in Sheffield or most recently in Manchester, but as with any band or review, I’ll always call a spade a spade and be brutally honest about any live performance or record.

Many bands that have been around as long as Therapy? will have a hardcore of fans who blindly go along with all that it is put before them but with this particular bunch you’re always challenged. After being at the forefront of the mid-90s rock resurgence, the band made albums that were raw, catchy, bleak and drug-addled with one simple consistency; fight. Therapy? wouldn’t lie down. They wouldn’t compromise. And they’ve certainly never been in the business of bowing to commercial pressures.

So here we are in 2015. Therapy? have recently released album number 12, Disquiet and they’re all set to lay waste to Manchester’s Academy 2 on a sunny Spring evening. Before tonight’s gig, I’m asked in the pub who I’m off to see and my reply is met with the usual “Christ, are they still going?” The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’ and by not realising that, you’ve been missing out on some of the most brilliant music and consistently enjoyable live shows in modern rock.

The venue isn’t sold out tonight as it was for last year’s 20th anniversary Troublegum show, but the crowd is healthy and ready for the first live outing of tracks from T?‘s latest opus. Meeting that need with a snarling ‘Still Hurts’, Therapy? hit the ground running; frontman Andy Cairns is as wide-eyed and psychotically brilliant as ever whilst Michael McKeegan pogoes around, showing no less enthusiasm than the very first time he set foot on stage. The Manc-pleasing ‘Isolation’ is up next followed by Troublegum partner in crime ‘Die Laughing’ and despite many in attendance having heard these songs countless times, every word is still belted back joyously at a grinning Cairns. Even tracks like ‘Vulgar Display Of Powder’ and ‘Idiot Cousin’ are surprisingly well-known despite only being a month or so old, proving that T? can still drive a hook into your long-term memory after only a couple of listens.

With so many tracks to choose between from their long career, there were always going to be some major omissions (namely everything from 1998 to 2012), but Therapy? can’t get away with ignoring their classics and they simply have too many of them these days. ‘A Moment Of Clarity’ gets more harrowingly beautiful with every listen, raising goosebumps throughout a captivating six minutes, whilst ‘Turn’, ‘Stories’ and ‘Nausea’ are anthemic to the ears of the adoring pit.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Andy Cairns – Evil Elvis on top.

If Therapy? were to have a theme tune it’d be a toss-up between ‘Screamager’ and ‘Teethgrinder’ as both songs encapsulate what the band have always stood for; the former being the catchiest thing since a particularly hook-loving sea bass whilst the latter will forever stand as a proclamation of the dawning of a new era of heavy music, both danceable yet angular and twisted. So by pairing the two together in the live setting, Therapy? nail a euphoric high you’d struggle to get from sticking a skag jabber directly into your eyeball.

After such a crescendo you’d be disappointed to see on paper the set closing with ‘Deathstimate’ and ‘Diane’ but this comedown simply doesn’t materialise. ‘Deathstimate’ is monolithic in riff whilst allowing a chance for us to cool down and ‘Diane’ is given such a powerfully upbeat reworking compared to the version on Infernal Love that you’d almost be forgiven for glossing over the subject matter.

It only takes a short break for T? to re-emerge and hammer into a violent ‘Knives’, a rare outing for ‘Skinning Pit’ and the familiar ‘Potato Junkie’ and ‘Nowhere’. All four sound as fresh as they did two decades earlier and screaming about Irish novelists having carnal relations with your siblings has never been more fun.

What we’ve had tonight are 22 songs of brilliance, variety, passion and integrity. I’ve yet to find a band who can equal such consistency and I challenge you to find a show packed with more quality than tonight. Quite simply, Therapy? ooze excellence and long may it continue.

Hawk Eyes + God Damn + Bad Grammar @ Sound Control, Manchester – 18th February 2015

Hawk Eyes @ Sound Control, Manchester

Hawk Eyes – everything’s lovely, thanks for asking.

Seven pounds

As far as gig reviews go, this one’s pretty fucking straightforward. I went to Sound Control tonight and saw three shit hot British bands for seven pounds. Time of my life. About 30-40 people did the same.

To find out why more didn’t join in, I had a think about what else seven pounds can get you.

A cheap cocktail
That’s right kids, modern day culture dictates that one shot of cheap rum combined with two of your favourite fruit juice, tossed rapidly over the shoulder of your favourite low slung-jeaned, tattooed bar-keep can be garnered for the cost of two proper man pints. So when the A-board outside indicates a special offer, you’re all over it like a tramp on chips. Sadly you’re going to end up with teeth furrier than an Angora-fancying Dracula so if I were you I’d steer well clear of such sugary malevolence.

A baby
I’m no expert but from seeing work emails flying about over the years it appears seven pounds is some sort of reputable figure for a miniature human. Yes they scream (horns up) but little scientific evidence has discovered much else they’re good at. If you fancy getting one for yourself, I’ve heard rapid intercourse or too many seven pound cocktails can help. You can have that one on me.

A peak time ticket to work
It’s important to get a job, don’t get me wrong, but for those who aren’t aware, cheaper tickets are available. The next time you wrench your flipper from your pocket, have a think about a season ticket, freeing up funds for something far less banal.

So, you could get a crap drink, a lifetime of never seeing your friends or a rocky ride on a four mile rattler.

Tonight, I chose Hawk Eyes (riffs, stories, Yorkshire) plus God Damn (riffs, all of the hair, deafness) and Bad Grammar (riffs, guitar issues, humility).

I know where I’d rather have been, time to have a think about where you were.

Manic Street Preachers @ Albert Hall, Manchester – 11th December 2014

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This is really hard for me. Obviously it’s far harder for the three remaining members of the Manic Street Preachers, but since The Holy Bible has sat proudly atop my albums podium for the past two decades, anticipation doesn’t quite cover it. I’m feeling want. I’m feeling desire. I’m feeling despair. I’m feeling every emotion under the sun as the Manics return to Manchester for two intimate gigs at the city’s Albert Hall to play one of the most passionate albums ever committed to disc.

For context, my first ever girlfriend ADORED Nicky Wire. A gangly rock legend, Wire was the poster boy for awkwardness, constantly grinning away in outrageous outfits. Then there was Sean Moore. An unassuming drummer at the best of times, when THB was unleashed he became a gloved destroyer. Then there was James Dean Bradfield. Effortlessly dextrous, the frontman turned hugely challenging subject matter into vocal beauty and it touched a 14 year old me like no other record.

But the author of much of the despair, Richey James hasn’t been there for almost as long as The Holy Bible has. Back in 1995 I had a letter published in Kerrang! which stated my hope that by choosing to see Terrorvision live rather than the Manics my decision wouldn’t come back to bite me on the backside. And how it did. I’d seen the full four-way force of the Manics in 1994. My first ever gig and indeed my first pint, but then Richey was gone. What followed never truly seemed to capture that spirit and I moved on, away from my icons. Until 2013.

Last year, the Manics played a set of intimate shows, the Manchester leg of which I was privileged to attend. An absolute tour de force of their career, the set encompassed everything I loved alongside all that I didn’t, but that night made me realise the beauty in all of their work both new and old.

So here we are in 2014 and the Manics announce The Holy Bible shows. I wasn’t anorexic in 1994. I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t even that nihilistic, but the political and emotional chord of the record had struck a nerve and I’d been unwilling to ignore it since. Come hell or high water I would see the whole thing played live.

And now I have. There is no support tonight, merely a few 90s classics over the PA and an excitable throng, so when a militarily-garbed set of Manics emerge it’s with rapture and adoration quite befitting of such crossover legends.

As we hit The Holy Bible, the words to each and every song come flooding back into my mind no matter how political or complex. As chart-bothering records go, I’ve heard happier, so when ‘Yes’ and ‘Ifwhiteamerica’ spit their bile, it’s almost shocking that such singalong euphoria can greet them, but it does, and fortunately the bouncing hardcore remain down the front throughout.

This is probably one of the strangest celebrations of live music I’ve encountered. The subject matter of the holocaust, genocide and eating disorders wash over us, and as one we celebrate not only the record’s importance in musical history but also in its fight to put right the selfish attitudes of the majority. ‘Revol’ is still full of spiky punk attitude, ‘4st 7lbs’ is heartbreakingly beautiful and ‘Faster’ slaps us in the face like it only emerged yesterday.

‘Die In The Summertime’ raises pretty much every hand in the old Wesleyan chapel and after a mesmerising ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’, ‘PCP’ sees a mini wall of death amongst us, all of whom are old enough to know better.

After a break, the Manics hit us with a second set quite rightly majoring on new material. Most recent record Futurology is full of innovative Euro rock and although they might not be overly familiar to many, songs like ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ and the instrumental ‘Dreaming A City’ sit comfortably alongside the usual classics. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ has been given a gradual makeover throughout the years and tonight becomes the fuller epic it’s always wanted to be, whilst ‘If You Tolerate This’ is suitably anthemic, and ‘You Love Us’ is as rabble rousingly frenetic as it was in 1992.

But then there’s the moment.

James Dean Bradfield purposefully moves his mic to stage right and into the previously empty Richey area and suddenly we’re cathartically feeling every joyous chord of ‘A Design For Life’.

This feels like closure. This feels like emotional outpouring. This feels like it. Richey has long been an anonymous part of Manics shows and in a way he always will, but for now he is gone. And we move on. But we celebrate every last second of life he shared with us and it feels incredible.

As the show ends we’ve got that usual sense of wanting more but we’re also happy that Richey’s most harrowing work has received the adulation it deserves. This might not be quite up there with last year’s show at The Ritz, but this is beautiful songwriting performed with dignity. And for that we salute you. All four of the Manic Street Preachers.