BY THE SEA (and others) Night and Day Café, Manchester – 9th January 2016.
So there I was, on a Friday night, minding my own business when I saw a Facebook reference to the fact that sparkling song-smiths By The Sea were playing in my hometown the following evening. Naturally, I couldn’t miss it, so I decided to brave the raging monsoon (not unlike a Manchester summer’s evening) that was causing chaos in the streets and made for the Night and Day Café on Oldham Street. When I arrived, about half an hour before the first band was due on, it was virtually empty. Tremors were up first. I initially thought they were called Tumors and by the end of their set I wondered if having one might be preferable. Their first song was competent enough and my curiosity was sufficiently piqued to put off a ciggy excursion but by the end of third song I could hold it no longer. Like many young bands on the scene today, they seem to be aiming to write mainstream ‘stadium’ songs in the hope that one day they will be playing…er…stadiums. Much of the set was Coldplay/U2 by numbers, not an entirely bad thing, but not my bag maaaan. There was talent on stage but as a Mancunian sage of the past once put it, the songs said nothing to me about my life. They are young and they may learn, but they didn’t sound much different from thousands of other young bands trying to make it in this vicious industry, as opposed to singing/writing/performing because they simply have to.
Next up were Lungs. Maybe that’s why I mistook the Tremors name. This was only their second gig having risen from the ashes of The Bicycle Thieves (a Mick Head/classic Italian film reference…which can never be bad). The difference in look and ability from the opening band was immediately apparent. Looking semi-smart and like they meant business they provided a set of post-industrial pictures to music that were appreciated by the burgeoning crowd that was now assembled in the Northern Quarter venue. This was anti-stadium music, with echoes of the North West’s past littered through. As such, Lungs offered an intriguing and thought provoking set that posts the way to an interesting future. Their sound could not have been more markedly different to the opening Tremors, nor the headliners By The Sea, who were the real reason I was here.
Opening with the stately and crystalline riff of ‘I See A Crystal Sky’, By The Sea lived up to their growing reputation proffered by those in the know. Their sound is a dreamy, psychedelic amalgam of some of the best bands of the last couple of decades, all mashed up to make a sound uniquely theirs. Lead singer Liam Power’s vocals are mixed so as to blend with the music rather than stand out. There is no one dominant feature of their sound, except for when those sharp guitars trade pretty sparks. Two new songs followed; Wild Swans Chorus and Gatekeeper, neither of which sound out of place in the By The Sea canon, but both of which hint at exciting possibilities for album number three.
Similarly, the magnificent Heaven Knows Magnolia, (just for its title alone) is a song of building crescendos and guitars that twist your mind, and was a high point in the set thus far. The band is tight and they seamlessly create the luscious noise that is their trademark despite the Night and Day Café sound (not sure if it was the venue or the mix) not being entirely conducive to it. When I saw them supporting Bill Ryder Jones at both Gullivers (Manc) and District (the ‘pool), the sound was perfect and you could tell that the mix was sympathetic to the feel of By The Sea’s chiming and mind expanding music. It wasn’t here but the band won through.
Having given us a glimpse of their future, the band returned to the past with The Cure/The Smiths-like opening of You’re The Only One, which is quite simply shimmering sunny pop. There is an ‘uplift’ to much of By The Sea’s music, and it is something they share with New Order, along with staccato drums and chiming guitars, but minus Hooky hogging the limelight. Speaking of Barney’s lot, Eveline could be one of New Order’s lost tunes had it been written in the current decade with the intervening influences intact . The incessant riff that punctuates the dreamy atmospherics allied with the falsetto euphoric vocal makes it a song The Killers might…shall I say it?…O.K. …kill for. It really comes into its own live before the trippy ESP takes us on an entirely different…oh fuck…trip…again. Waltz Away is a suitable ending to an hour of fuzzy (and fizzy) pop that sends the listener away with tunes that are impossible to shake from their heads and a spring in their step.
When By The Sea began their set there was a strange degree of apathy among the watching Mancunian mass; strange because if you have paid to watch a gig then surely the headliners should receive full attention, but by the end the crowd had moved to the front and there were shouts of “More!” as the last notes of Waltz Away faded, which suggests this was one audience totally won over. With Heaven Knows Magnolia, ESP, Wild Swans Chorus and Gatekeeper already fully formed and primed for an assault on our ears via album number three, By The Sea look ready to take their much deserved place among must listen/must see bands in 2016.