Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band – Gorilla, Manchester 15/12/2013

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Fuck That Shit.

We all know the history because nearly every Shack/Mick related article begins with it and to be honest, it’s all a bit boring now, especially when the man’s music can stand up for itself and do battle with anything that is thrown it’s way. So the space below is for you to fill in your own DAT tapes/substance abuse/fires stories.

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 Me? I am going to start from the beginning, which is now. Tonight was not about the past. Who cares? There is a back catalogue of genius to be mined of course, but the need is not so pressing when the new songs are sounding so sumptuous. It is fair to suggest that Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band (as a Blue, I can’t bring myself to call them the Reds as Mick does), enter 2014 on the cusp of something wonderful. The performance tonight followed the trajectory begun at The Leaf via a Manny sojourn at the Night and Day and a triumphant Kazimier show in the ‘pool, the latter performance considered by many to be untouchable. The many (as is often the case with a majority) were wrong. Gorilla in Manchester was about to witness the best yet.

Once more, the chosen venue fitted in nicely with the Michael Head aesthetic, and it seems a common theme to hear the audience saying “Nice venue, this” wherever he plays. The added bonus of seeing Bill Ryder Jones open the show did not seem to sway many of the audience to turn up early, which was a shame, because like Mick, Bill is a purveyor of tunes of brittle beauty such as The Lemon Trees and A Bad Wind Blows in my Heart which were both aired to a respectful and supportive crowd. The fact that Bill is developing into something of an in between song raconteur kept those who bothered to catch his set entertained, especially when comparing the two vastly different cities, the one from which the band comes and the city playing host to tonight’s entertainment. On playing the opening bars of This Charming Man, Bill asked the audience if they would like to hear more. The cheer by way of reply was slapped down with “Nah, we don’t do that. Not where I come from”, as instead he embarked on a tender cover of Neighbours, written by tonight’s headliner. Bill Ryder Jones’ songs suggest that the musical future of Merseyside is safe in his hands, but then so do the latest batch of songs from the headliner. 

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It has been fascinating to see the development of The Red Elastic Band, from a virtually solo adventure (augmented by only cello and trumpet), to a full band, and with it, the unfathomable fragile confidence that Mick seems to be a victim to has dissipated somewhat. Tonight, he and the band looked joyous as they crashed through a set of his classically crafted songs.  Perhaps the first thing to note is that Mick’s voice is back, and how! The tentative singing of the last couple of gigs has been replaced by a confidence to use his main instrument to its full effect.  The very fact that it is there seemed to put him more at ease than at any other time over the last couple of years. As for the band, well, they were just superb. Sam Christie’s easy jazzy style on the drums and Pete Wilkinson’s experienced and fluent bass playing led the tempo, whilst the Love-lorn brassy interludes from Martin and Andy serve only to move the songs up a gear. Meanwhile Danny Rogers added electric flourishes and thrashy embellishments with an ease that belied his relative ‘newby’ (see what I did there) status. The unreleased Sante Fe was a bit of a ‘loosener’ tonight, until about halfway through when the mojo was found, and then there was no stopping them. The Artorius E.P. was represented by Lucinda Byre and Cadiz both of which breathed warmth into the chilly Manchester. Newby Street has quickly become a live tour de force so much so that the recorded version which is a majestic thing anyway,  sounds positively tame when compared with the stomping bossa -nova groove aired tonight (like New York, Newby is so good they played it twice). Meant to Be was pretty much faultless and the crescendo that follows the trumpets was met with triumph from this evening’s punters. The still unreleased Queen of All Saints and Rumer just further underline what a fantastic album this band has hiding in its locker, and is proof to the doubters that Mick is still and always will be a highly gifted songwriter.

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When Flannery was given wings at the Kazimier, some in the crowd were thrown by the different approach to the song at the beginning. The development has continued, as it now boasts a thunderous wig out at the end with Danny even chucking in the odd ‘rock pig’ pose! The solo slot consisted of Al’s Vacation, Daniella and Emergency from Zilch, a triumvirate of the mundane made beautiful; few artists can sing about everyday life and make it sound as magical as Mick does. It was during the former song that Mick’s instrument let him down badly. The ‘finger pop’ in Al’s Vacation went woefully wrong to much amusement from crowd and band. Ever the trooper, Mick apologised, let out an embarrassed laugh, and finished the song, ‘pop’ and all.

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A gorgeous The Prize, as always for Alice, brought the show to an end, before the reprise of Newby Street and Meant to Be meant the crowd left Gorilla in Manchester with a bounce in their step and a tune on their lips.

 Tonight we had songs that are over a quarter of a century old alongside some of Mick’s new babies. We had Paleys stuff, Shack stuff, and Red Elastic Band stuff, we had b-sides and unreleased stuff, and yet not one song sounded out of place.

‘Timeless’ is the word.

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I don’t think it is much of an exaggeration to suggest that with songs like Velvets in the Dark and Winter Turns to Spring waiting to be committed to vinyl, alongside Queen of All Saints, Rumer and Sante Fe, Mick’s next album could very well be the best thing he has ever done, which is high praise indeed.

 

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