By Lewis Oxley
I’m currently at the stage of completing my MA thesis about the changing function of the modern music critic, so this gig was an opportunity to demonstrate how our authority has changed as critics. Are we the mighty gatekeepers of fine taste? Or the voice that cuts through the noise and finally makes sense… you decide.
Live music makes a lively return to the Peer Hat, a venue which has served as a launch pad for any new and exciting band from Manchester. It feels great to finally re-accustom myself to the local music scene after an arduous 18 months out of action. The rest of punters that can fit inside this cosy basement are poised for a long-awaited comeback. The comeback is something to savour, more than the blessed evening sunshine that hangs over the Northern Quarter.
The evening’s headliners, Manchester-based duo, Villanelle and The Northern Wonder, are an interesting medley of fuzzy 70s stoner rock and deep-rooted Americana and take influence from acts including T-Rex, Bowie, to Queens of the Stone Age and Father John Misty. The duo released their debut E.P. Dark Days at the Grand back in April after vocalist Kieran Grenville pursued a solo venture and decided to unite with Dan Shaw and become a staunch partnership in the process. The E.P takes a range of influences from Orville Peck to The Handsome Family to add to an already vibrant mix. The lads are joined by sonorous scouser Bobby West, whose voice injects a sharp scratch of serotonin to cure the end of summer blues, and whose influences range from Father John Misty to Dan Auerbach and Richard Hawley, a knack for southern melodies that wildly evoke the warm bluegrasses of Tennessee with an added scouse charm.
The anticipation has to be put on hold however, (delays on the M62 no doubt) ensuring a slight delay to the show. Finally, after a pause-filler of two pints of decent imported lager, and chatting to strangers about midweek football, proceedings begin.
Bobby West is a slickly dressed man with a suave 50s pompadour perm that channels a look of a beatnik and Alan Silitoe’s rebellious factory worker, Arthur Seaton. Equipped with a hollow body in hand, he belts into ‘As The Morning Crept In’ a highly evocative number echoing Lee Hazlewood with the aura of the late Scott Walker shimmering with a twinkle in his eye. The sharp twang of the hollow body lets out a mighty yowl, a noise more fitting for the roadside than on a stage. West’s delivery is immense, it is just a shame that the positioning of the stage is awkwardly stretched to a corner to not fully appreciate it all.
Villanelle… keep the crowd brimming with anticipation but they appear on stage to a warm, coveted reception. The band plays a tight set and with a keyboardist it always adds a deviant edge to the rather formal approach of Americana. The band play a host of oscillating tunes delivered with a pinch of a free-flowing groove that should be experienced with rose-tinted specs on and watch the reels of film nostalgia come rushing back. There is an urge to just let the music take you rather than be that awkward fly on the wall that treats a gig as a social science experiment (no room for Bourdieu’s field theory here.) This music is understandably a bit hasty after a long delay but not at all half hearted as though they wished they were back on the road. “The Good, The Bad and the Pedro’s” highlights Villanelle witty and creative songwriting and evokes the feeling of being at another famous Pedro’s of the crazy variety the swooning feel of it, gives the crowd a warm racing feeling that takes me with them (even if i’m holding a half-full plastic pint pot.)
Tonight’s gig welcomes back the lively Peer Hat. Here’s to many more intimate gigs. Chin Bloody Chin!