Ok, so I had a crafty pint before going to work and missed the big announcement, XFM’s New Music Award 2012 goes to…, I know, I should be ashamed of myself. But don’t worry; I’m guessing it went something like this. XFM’s John Kennedy ambles on stage (ah the charisma) to a largely indifferent gathering of Manchester folk. The panel has been deliberating long and hard and it’s been a very difficult decision (rubbish, get on with it, it’s a no brainer). And the winner is………The Vaccines. Yeah, whooo, hurrah and so on. It was the right choice based on the competition’s criteria and I’m sure it took all of five minutes to make, or until the free beer ran out. So congratulations to The Vaccines, it’s well deserved. Now let’s get on with the gig review and five of XFM’s top picks for 2012.
Somehow you got the sense that tonight’s show was in mortal peril from the moment Willy Moon (resplendent in white suit) took to the stage. A nasty buzz had attached itself to the guitar and from his microphone, the sound of silence. Three mic changes and unwanted buzzing later and the set is all but done.
It’s a real shame and unfortunately only a portent of what’s to come. However, those who braved the cold and got in early shouldn’t judge on this performance alone. Through the mist of technical problems we can still hear glimpses of Moon’s Sinatra doing David Byrne, doing The Big Bopper, whilst Beck twiddles the knobs. I’m sure he will continue to divide opinion (as he did amongst friends on the night) but it would be unfair to form one on this outing. One thing the technical gremlins did not detract from was Moon and his band looking cool, real cool daddio.
Ren Harvieu is on home turf tonight so it’s no surprise she gets a warm welcome as she takes to the stage. From the off her vocal is effortless, sitting somewhere between a Jazzy Dusty Springfield, and Debbie Harry in her more refined moments. Comparisons to Adele then, are both lazy and way off base.
The problem I have is, if the voice is the engine and the song the vehicle, are we looking at a purring V8 stuffed into a family hatch? The strings that bathe her debut single ‘Through The Night’ that could have come from a Northern Soul classic or a sumptuous slice of 60’s pop are missing tonight and I find myself craving them. The voice and piano cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ is utterly faultless until someone taps me on the shoulder to ask if it reminds me of a certain Only Fools & Horses episode. From that moment on all I can hear is ‘Cwy-i-in, over you’ and the moment is gone. Damn you medaling kids.
Her debut album is due in April this year, and I have little doubt that if the song quality is there Ren’s star will certainly be in the ascendancy. We’ll have to wait until then of course, but if she gets it right, Lana Del Rey may have to make room on her shiny new perch.
Next up are Spector, or should that be spectre, as the ghosts in the machine are back with a vengeance. From the moment a laptop fails early in the set the Dalston boys are blighted by misfiring drum triggers, keyboard samples and everything else the digital world can throw at them. Of course they valiantly struggle on, but they never quite recover their composure. Even current single ‘Chevy thunder’ sees the band treading water. And though stonewall banker and final song ‘Never fade Away’ does its best to lift the mood it never quite reaches the heights it’s capable of.
I’m sure the immediate future is bright for Macpherson and co with their debut album and support tour with Florence & the Machine just round the corner. Tonight however, they’ll need to put down to a bad day at the office.
Thankfully, Dry The River frequent a more analogue world, so guitar tuning aside there is less to trouble them tonight. I first reviewed DTR around two years ago (nice to see XFM catching up) and my opinion of them has changed very little, they are a class act. As they ease their way through some of the highlights of (soon to be released) debut album ‘Shallow bed’, the Ritz crowd are wrapped in the warm glow of flawless harmonies, punctuated by Peter Liddle’s tender and often fractured vocal and all is right with the world once again.
If you’ve not heard them before, think Fleet Foxes and Neil Young with the occasional breakout of a bar brawl and you won’t be far off the mark. By rights the genre of folk rock should have me running for the hills; it’s something in my genetic musical make-up that has me dependent on sharp defined edges. But DTR transcend my prejudice as they should yours. They are a band who quietly goes about their business with a musical dignity, and will quietly go about selling lots of records if there’s any justice in the world, which of course there isn't.
So to our headliners (really?), Stoke indie rockers All The Young. Now I need to get one thing straight before we start. I love indie music and have a healthy respect for those who work in A&R and radio; for the most part they do a pretty good job. Fair enough I hear you say, so what’s the problem? The problem my friend’s is simple. Warner Bros are wrong, XFM are wrong, HMV are wrong and anyone tamely submitting to the All The Young hype are wrong. ATY are just another mediocre (at best) lad rock indie band who will forever be in the shadow left by the brothers Gallagher. They even sound Mancunian for Christ’s sake. They are this year’s Viva Brother and with any luck they will both go the same way, just file them next to the Courteeners and be done with it.
I think I’m right in saying, they are now on the fourth single with a major record company and none have charted, certainly not significantly at any rate. I only have to look at the band to make me shudder. It takes a certain kind of pop star to get away with wearing sunglasses indoors and Ryan Dooley is not one of them. I’m torn between Heartbeat extra or Ray Winston playing Roy Orbison.
In the words of Mrs Doyle of Father Ted fame, “You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.” I’m off for a shower; I feel the need to get clean.
(Our normal star rating system was dispensed with for this review due to technical issues for some artists making it unfair)