Reviews: In The City, 06/10/08

I volunteered to write some reviews of unsigned bands for BBC Introducing. The original reviews can be found at the link below. Reviews for other bands from fellow BBC journalists are also captured below for completeness, my reviews are in bold italics.


Sunday at In The City

Day one of In The City and the BBC Manchester Introducing team was out and about. Here's what they saw... (reviews by Chris Long, Carol Hodge, James Walker, Colin Warhurst)
Birds Vs Planes
Birds Vs Planes

Birds vs Planes at Studio, 1.15pm (CH)

Generator do a grand job of promoting the talents of upcoming bands from the North East and Cumbria, and have been singing the praises of Birds vs Planes (fka Stars of Track and Field) for a while now.  The focal point is their smiley Karen O style vocalist, who embarks on hyperactive knee bending as soon as the music kicks in.  She has a glorious gut-kicking set of pipes that soar, Linda Perry style, over the music, provided by four shoegazey boys. Musically, Birds vs Planes score points in a New York-y grunge meets Brit Pop way, sliding from thumping power ballad to jittery pop cakes. There’s something na├»ve about the musical style that doesn’t quite sit right, but with a singer this good, they remain likeable.

Mrs Boon’s Cakes at the Midland, 3pm (CH)

Not a band, but a retro refreshment roadshow.  Featuring hot sweet tea in vintage china cups, soaked up with sumptuous slices of Mrs Boon’s victoria sponge, carrot cake, cup cakes and brownies.  Husband Mr Boon (that’s Clint to you and I), with the assistance of two antique turntables, provides a motown and soul backdrop to help the tea and cakes go down. Finger-snappingly fun!

Airship at Night and Day, 6.30pm (JW)

On paper, the four spritely members of Manchester-based Airship tick all the boxes required to join the ever-increasing horde of tiresome indie-popettes. However, it soon becomes apparent that these earnest youngsters are looking far beyond the realms of mediocrity, as guitar-laden movements such as ‘Call It A Science’ demonstrate a highly creative approach to song structure that defies their age. Airship graced their way through an impressive half-hour set that shifted effortlessly from Pixie-esque drum and bass patterns to spacey, layered breakdowns. And the best thing about it? You could tell the boys were having the time of their lives.

Capital at Night and Day, 7.20pm (JW)

Capital frontman Nick Webb occupies the middle-ground between the biting social observations of Guy Garvey and the eccentric phrasing of the Cure’s Robert Smith. And, backed by a distinctively solid backbone of snare, bass and strings, the smartly-dressed Eastbourne vocalist wasted no time in pulling out all the stops. Although the overt nod to mid-90s Britpop at some points teeters on the edge of tedium, the raw driving force behind songs such as ‘Public Square’ and recent single ‘Bright Lights’ soon brought the audience back into the room.
Ed Zealous
Ed Zealous

Ed Zealous at Studio, 7.45pm (CL)

Ed Zealous isn’t one extremely eager man, but five fresh young Northern Irish fellas bursting with fine slices of experimentation, natty threads and, in one case, a rather fetching, if somewhat inappropriate - given the temperature in Studio - massive furry hat. Theirs is a dislocated epic style of rock that’s capable of being just as moody as their flailing floppy fringes, while also delivering a clean set of smiles. They may struggle for longevity, but right now, you won’t find many better prospects.

Talk To Angels at Chicago Rock, 8pm (CH)

“They’re like Hanson being Nirvana on Stars in their Eyes”, my friend reliably informs me as I squeeze into Chicago Rock for Talk to Angels’ set.  Having met this band earlier in the day, I was intrigued by the “uplifting, melodramatic rock” they had promised. Interesting use of synth adds ambience to some of their songs, and pushes hard at the edges of the cheese envelope with others. Unfortunately, other than this synth edge, TTA are purveyors of predictable, mid-paced indie rock, treading familiar boards with added emo angst. The assembled family and fans might just persuade an A and R scout that these good-looking boys are worthy, so good luck to them.

Laymar at Night and Day, 8.10pm (JW)

Post-rock revivalists Laymar started so gently that the gap between sound-check and set was almost imperceptible. As the lights dimmed, however, the audience soon hushed and began to move in close, wanting to catch a better glimpse of this curious Manchester three-piece. The initial boxy synth beats slowly evolved into sparse, syncopated movements, harking back to the great post-rock mentality of bands such as Bark Psychosis and Stereolab. Audience interaction was almost non-existent, but this was only to be expected. Let’s face it, between-song-wisecracks never really fitted the shoe-gazing format - and so Laymar seemed more than happy to keep their heads down and their music tight.

Angry Vs The Bear at Walkabout, 8.30pm (CH)

Four immaculately coiffed hairdos, tighter than tight jeans and a young Debbie Harry lookalike on vocals, Angry vs the Bear have got me intrigued before they even hit their first note. Stomping around, marking the stage as their territory, AVTB chuck out buckets of bravado and hope it sticks. There are two baby TVs on stage with Yogi Bear cartoons playing, vocal FX aplenty and percussive capers, all adding a professional edge to the brutally simple music. Obvious shades of No Doubt, X Ray Specs and new superheroes The Ting Tings shine through as disembodied backing vocals float in from outer space, and the style strays from straight electro pop into new wave ska and punk territory. Exuberant and fun, this band might still be searching for their sound, but are packing a punch already and are definitely one to watch.
Run Toto Run
Run Toto Run

Run Toto Run at Bedlam, 8.30pm (CL)

The thing about playing In The City is that you usually don’t get chance to properly soundcheck. Hats off then to Run Toto Run for their bravery at incorporating a glockenspiel, double bass, melodica, fiddle and more into their short set. For the most part, their bravery paid off. Despite occasional battles against the levels, their fresh folk-pop still managed to shine as brightly as lead singer Rachael’s smile, with the mini drama of ‘Alice’ and the foot-tapping, hand clap explosion that is ‘Plastic Gold’ showing just why they deserved their place on the official showcase.

Pavilion at Ruby Lounge, 8.45pm (CW)

Seeing as how this particular ITC gig was being hosted by XFM, it was difficult to see what they thought the fuss was about with Pavilion. To quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide, the only way to sum up Pavilion would be as “Mostly Harmless.” Evidently a capable band, but they’re not catchy in the slightest. There was never any danger of them igniting a fire, because they never provided a spark. To be fair, they do peddle a nice blend of poppy chorus and upbeat rhythms that does just enough to put a smile on your face. Only their single ‘Spoils Of War’ managed to stand out as being slightly edgier and I hope that any future songs follow the same trend; otherwise they could be in danger of boring themselves out of the business.

D’Nile at Chicago Rock, 9pm (CL)

The adage that you should ‘play every show like it’s Wembley’ is a fine piece of advice for any band, but one that the awfully monikered D’Nile have taken a little too seriously. Their gurning frontman thrust and surged his way through as many generic rock poses as he could muster, while his equally generic backing band played massively bland, big chorused backdrops. They were tight, they were dramatic and they were utterly soulless. They might have convinced the myriad of relatives that they’d brought along to support them that they were worth closer attention, but for those without a blood tie, they felt like a covers band playing obscure Robbie Williams tracks.

Baddies at Bar 38, 9.15pm (CH)

I’ve seen Baddies a few times previously, and they never fail to impress. This is a hungry, eager, lean rock machine, who are so tight it hurts, have harmonies to die for and a razor sharp edginess. Dark, intense melodies ride atop driving punk beats and jagged pop edges. Like Franz Ferdinand coming out of prison and losing faith in humanity, their sound is slightly repetitive but distinctive. Baddies are every A and R person’s dream and are definitely ready for the next phase of their career. If they don’t get signed, there is something wrong!

Gideon Conn at Ruby Lounge, 9.30pm (CW)

Already being hailed as a local icon, it is difficult to see why he still remains Unsigned. Gideon Conn’s truly unique act one again demonstrated that blending hip-hop, indie, poetry and his own insane sense of animated enthusiasm is a winning, if somewhat eccentric, formula. Gideon was on form at his 2nd gig of the night, easily trundling out a hundred words a minute and not showing any sign of slowing down. A truly excellent evening of beats, breaks and bopping on one hand and his witty acoustic and a capella ditties on the other. One ITC’s sparkling gems and deserving of a bigger stage.

Obsessive Compulsive at Walkabout, 10.15pm (CH)

"Hi guys, thanks for coming to see us in this bizarre venue. You know who we are."  Thus Obsessive Compulsive’s front woman Kelii kicks off a confident and brutal set. This girl has an impressive set of vocal cords, which she uses thoughtfully, flitting from warm solid mid-tones to a throaty Kat Bjelland growl where appropriate. Dark, tense and not quite as thunderously loud tonight as they should have been, OC trade well-structured grungy songs and tight changes with a heavier, metal guitar solo edge. This band have clearly worked hard to build a loyal following, and are the real underground deal. They are worth sitting up and taking notice of.
The Beep Seals
The Beep Seals

The Beep Seals at Ruby Lounge, 10.15pm (CW)

The Beep Seals were on form and failed to disappoint, packing a punch as soon as they got to the stage. They couldn’t help but demand your attention, thumping bass and some truly excellent and enthusiastic drumming driving us along through a set that was powerful and energetic. Each song was a pure joy and took full advantage of some great harmonies and opportunities for guitar solos that, while never bordering on anthemic, were certainly uplifting. Finishing on a screeching wall of noise and an incredible drum solo and guitar feedback, it was no surprise that we all cried out for more. They are a real reminder of the kind of talent ITC is trying to showcase.

Substatic at Chicago Rocks, 10.30pm (CH)

Exciting, experimental and enticing, Substatic are a breath of unusual air tonight.  With Middle Eastern lilts, an electric violin, synths, and drum and bass beats, I’m instantly hooked. The final song, led by sultry soaring vocals, is reminiscent of Kylie’s ‘Confide In Me’, which is in no way a bad thing. Groovy, seductive, and clearly a group of people who put the music first and pour themselves into its making, Substatic are my band of the day.