The Ritz, Manchester
Cath Aubergine enjoys the Breeders, but probably not as much as if they’d just played a regular gig, and asks – has the Album In Full thing got a bit tired?
An unknown band walk out onto a stage far bigger than they’re used to, locals chosen to open for an acclaimed reunion band who haven’t got a tour support with them; those first few seconds arguably the most important of their career to date. There’s a long instrumental introduction; a couple of lines of understated, almost murmured vocals; you start to form a view without knowing where this might go. But we know, having seen Mount Fabric a number of times. The sprawl of proggy post-rock coalesces and Alex Marczak’s voice emerges: a stunning, pure falsetto that stops you in your tracks. Suddenly people have noticed.
You don’t see the name Mount Fabric on many of those hot-lists of Manchester’s emerging talent – they don’t hang out with the “right” people, don’t fit easily into any of the city’s scenes. Their music is a mass of complexities, though not of the impenetrable and inaccessible kind. There are shifts in tempo and wild drums; post-punk clatter and Radiohead claustrophobia wrapped in beautiful chiming guitar melodies. A certain nervous tension pervades it all. And there’s Alex, treading the line between the reluctant frontman – shuffling from guitar to keyboard and back, shielded by a mass of russet curls – an almost otherworldly leader, standing on the stagefront in his trademark mismatched socks, immersed in the sound. It ends in a crashing spiral I Like Trains would be proud of, and we’re not surprised to see one of the band in an ILT shirt later.
There’s something about watching a band grow and develop, and right now Mount Fabric are nailing it every time. A brave choice of support from the promoters, but a good one. They sound ready to take on the world, and tonight made a significant step in that direction.
This week, Pixies confirmed Kim Deal has left the band after a few years of playing their twenty-plus-year-old repertoire around the world. To go and do something new? Nope, well not yet anyway, not while there are still drops to be squeezed from the nostalgia circuit. Seems every old album that sold more than a couple of thousand copies now has to have an anniversary reissue – twentieth, in the case of The Breeders‘ celebrated “Last Splash” which is available as either a triple CD set or a colossal seven disc vinyl package. Seven discs? Seriously? Yours for just £75.99 in that format. Uncharacteristically, I actually have no words for this, at least ones I could use in polite company. Was it really all that? Time to find out.
Certainly authenticity has been considered tonight, with the album’s original players Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, Jim Macpherson and Carrie Bradley all joining Kim for this round of testimonials. Should be a great night. Except… except… they’re playing the album in full, in order.
So that’ll be the massive single, the one even people who don’t like music know, shoved in second slot and then… the rest of it, or something. OK, let’s see how this goes. The band look happy and relaxed – maybe a little too relaxed, with “New Year” sounding a bit sloppy. Then there’s that “Cannonball” introduction – THAT introduction; Kelley breaks into a huge grin and the crowd goes… well, nods a bit. Maybe it’s too early. Maybe it’s too hot – Britain’s ridiculous weather having suddenly decided it is summer after all, and the Ritz’s aircon making little headway against the heat and humidity. Much later, a mate of ours working for the promoters will excitedly reveal that she taught Kim the word “mingin'” this evening, and we have a fair idea how this came about. Further down the set, Josephine will comment that it’s hotter here than in Barcelona – and having myself missed their slot at Primavera partly on the grounds that the stage on which they were playing was fully exposed to the bitterly cold and forceful wind while the stage hosting Shellac at the same time wasn’t, I can confirm she’s not exaggerating. Either way, it’s not quite the reception we’d have expected for one of the greatest alt-rock singles of alt-rock’s key decade.
The more Pixies-like “Invisible Man” actually fares better; the band seem to be getting into their stride, and Kim goes off on a not entirely coherent between-song ramble involving borrowing their Mini-Moog (the same one they used twenty years ago) from a mate of Jim’s whom she struggles to remember, you know like that episode of Star Trek where there’s a race of beings nobody can remember afterwards, maybe he’s one of them. Um, yeah, if you say so Kim. (Someone more into their TV sci-fi than me might be able to confirm whether or not she has also misremembered this – we reckon said race was on Dr Who, could have been one on Star Trek as well I guess). Josephine wisely reels her in at this point, but at least it feels more like a gig now.
Some of it hasn’t aged that well – “Do You Love Me Now?” and about half of side two, for instance; some of it – the brief krautpunk instrumentals that slip between the full songs; the utterly deranged sounding “Mad Lucas” – definitely has. But that’s the thing with album gigs, isn’t it – how many albums are there with no weak spots? Surely it’s time to bin this frustrating and enduring retro gig format? I know it must have seemed like quite a nice novelty when the Meltdown people first came up with it, but I’m not sure they anticipated it would become so commonplace – and anyway, wasn’t the whole idea of treating your album as a Sacred Artefact one of the reasons “why punk had to happen”? Maybe Kraftwerk got it right with their 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 shows: base your set on the nominal classic LP but don’t be constricted by it, and if this track or that track would work better at a different point or not at all, or there’s a track from a different album or a non-album release that’d suit, then fair enough. Come to think of it, the Stone Roses have made a successful reunion out of doing pretty much that, too, albeit without actually selling it as such. And finally, isn’t half the joy of going to see an oldie band that moment when they unexpectedly pull out a tune you’d forgotten, or a slightly obscure personal favourite? I’d like to apologise, at this point, to anyone nearby when I literally squealed at the intro to the Jesus And Mary Chain’s “Between Planets” at said Primavera festival, but doubt I’d have had quite such a rush of delight had it been the regulation track four on an advertised “Automatic” playthrough.
As if to prove this point, the crowd livens up considerably during the second “other stuff” (mostly older stuff, that is) set. The fast-paced and Josephine-fronted “Metalman” from “Pod” is a highlight, and the final encore of “Don’t Call Home” is greeted – deservedly – with complete and utter joy. But what wouldn’t we give to have “Cannonball” now? Not necessarily as a finale, but at least rubbing shoulders with these glorious nuggets of nostalgia from the days before the nineties got tired and settled into lumberjack-shirted complacency. It’s been a patchy ride though a format that’s possibly had its day, but this last half hour’s shown that The Breeders are certainly no less worthy of a memory-lane tour than any other oldie band currently treading the boards of the UK’s medium-sized venues, and indeed considerably more so than many.