So I finally went to another gig. It had been a while since I was last in Manchester, so I enjoyed the return to the Cornerhouse* café (I love that place, and there is nowhere that good in Leeds. Fact); brought back memories of my university days, when I would go to watch a film at least once a week.
We also went to a curry house, specifically Shere Khan. I had a decent enough, if overly tomato-drenched, lamb madras. That’s one thing I did woefully little of, when living in Manchester; I lived in a city that boasts a ‘Curry Mile’, and I had about three of the things while I was there.
And on we went to the venue. In my day, it was Manchester Debating Hall, where I saw Tomahawk (and missed what should, in hindsight, have been excellent support bands Dalëk and Ex-Girl) and, supporting Mark Lanegan, a Masters Of Reality line-up that featured Josh Homme on guitar and Nick Oliveri on bass. Apparently that name wasn’t cool enough, so the hall now bears the less charismatic nomenclature ‘Academy 2’.
As per usual, getting into the actual venue was an adventure. For whatever reason, the front door was a no-go, so we entered through the side and snaked through corridors until we had to submit our whole tickets (not merely the stub for these ‘security’ workers) and ‘hit the hall’, as it were.
In the closing stages of his support set was a young man who, though he went by the name ‘Richard Swift’, looked from a distance to strangely resemble the Yorkshire Ripper. Thankfully, it was just really his slightly afro-ish hair.
Aside from that claim to infamy, there was little to pen a missive to one’s relatives about. Piano-driven, retro-for-the-sake-of-it, songs that I’m sure would go down well in the middle of the afternoon on Radio 1, or a church jumble sale, but nothing you’d really choose to listen to.
Swift had a decent enough voice, a mix of the low and a touch gritty while also being strangely nasal. It put me in mind of Richard Hawley, which is not good when one considers:
1. Hawley’s voice is lower and grittier.
2. Swift had nothing to compare to Hawley’s excellent ‘The Nights Are Cold’.
Anyway, he soon finished in a blaze of mediocrity; nudging and winking through what sounded like a Billy Joel cast-off that featured one of those keyboard vocoder deals. It was a thousand times less cool than ‘Living on a Prayer’, and the only redeeming feature was the keyboardist dancing like Jimmy Somerville.
After a brief wait, the headliners came on, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Pre-gig, I had been anticipating rather a laidback performance from those the lazy would compare to Neil Young; to be precise, I was expecting the kind of set that would be great for a blissed-out summer day, lying on a field, rather than the stinky Academy 2 on a rainy, cold evening.
I should have probably paid more attention to their last album which, when I heard it, wasn’t quite up to the At Dawn standards, and had me switched over to the superior sounds of the Great Lake Swimmers. But I digress; this set began in a surprisingly rocking style, and I loved it.
Of especial note is their drummer, apparently one Patrick Hallahan, who plays with such sustained enthusiasm and power that the observer cannot help but be caught up in the passion of the moment. I recognised few songs (on record, I have a definite preference for their more melancholic moments), but that mattered little in the live context.
Sadly, this high was not to last. As the old saying goes, the band played on. And on, and on. Whether this is a reflection of their catalogue, or simple fatigue, I am not sure. What I do know, however, is that boredom set in.
Eventually, the band left the stage and, although I enjoyed the show overall, the feeling of relief was strong. Knowing the band would return for an encore, I hoped that brevity would save my soul – and the band’s esteem.
My Morning Jacket being the band they are (a throwback to a simpler time, when rock groups played for hours, and a decent show could be measured in beard growth over the course of the performance), my hopes proved to be an exercise in futility.
By this stage of the night, I had turned off. What had begun as pleasant surprise (and rocking!) was now a war of attrition between band and yours truly; I had been waving the white flag for quite some time. In short, the encore was about half the length of the set proper, and even the drummer, that accurate barometer of MMJ show quality, was flagging massively.
No longer buzzing with the enthusiasm of the first stage of the show, he was now merely drumming, and not in a particularly enthusiastic manner. It’s a shame, as this show had very real potential.
What little banter there was from the stage was enjoyable, as singer Jim James meditated on the church across the road from the University, and the common power of all religions to scare you. If only the music was as concise; my associate in attendance of this concert made mention of a time he saw the band, early one day during the Leeds Festival, and how good they were.
I can only imagine it was a great set; the lazy midday August sun would be a fine partner to the band. And so would the thirty-minute time limit on those opening bands.
* As far as I’m concerned, the greatest cinema I’ve been to. It boasts four screens, independence, with separate bar, café and gallery. And a pretty boss magazine/book shop.