Transformer Festival 2 - Albert Hall, Manchester

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:
Transformer Festival 2 - Albert Hall, Manchester
Transformer Festival 2 - Albert Hall, Manchester

A reduced line-up for the Transformer 2 festival (but not a reduced ticket price), at least means a venue move from the horrid Victoria Warehouse to the more gentile confines of Manchester's Albert Hall, for three acts who have been delighting and intimidating audiences over their lengthy careers.

After toying with me by seemingly playing the 'other' ATP Festival every time in each pair I went to see over the years, I've finally caught up with drone specialists Bardo Pond. Staying true to their roots, their miniscule 30 minutes stage time is spread into just three, long numbers. The opener is deloriously dreamy, as washes of noise envelops Isobel Sollenberger's tenor vocals. The song speeds up as Clint Takeda pummels his bass and Jason Kourkonis' cymbal-heavy drumming goes into overdrive, allowing the twin guitars of John and Michael Gibbons to soar, with their drone heavy effects weaving their magic on this 10+ minute opener.

The heaviness is upped on the central track as Clint uses as oscillator rather than a pick on his bass in a MBV-meets-Black Sabbath, or Medicine on heavy prescriptions rock opus, which is catchy as hell. The closer is unusually laid back in comparison, with a summery, windswept stance at first, with lots of high end bass, as Isobel's vocals take on a Mazzy Star or Big Star vibe. The song takes on a more dissonant and drone-heavy direction as Isobel introduces a flute, and her vocals become more atonal, but remain hypnotic, as the track moves along. A great performance that could have done with another 20-30 minutes for the band to truly get into full gear.

It's been fifteen years since I last saw Liars. Back then they were channelling post-punk and no-wave sentiments in their support/homage to Sonic Youth and Wire. How things have changed! Beginning with a drummer insanely pounding his drums to smithereens and electronic squelches coming from the keys, Angus Andrew springs onto the stage, quite literally, in a pink wedding dress, bounding around his mixer as Ministry gone electro of 'Coins Of A Caged Fist' bleeds out of the speakers. A breathtaking introduction that never lets up.

'Scarecrows of a Killer Slant' is a more straightforward bludgeoning of the senses, with rasping Cramps-on-speed guitars, frenetic drums and Angus' shouted and distorted vocals delivering intensity on a grand scale. Like a male counterpart to Savages or Peter Murphy gone disco, or Priscilla, queen of the Batcave, it is a fantastic song that gets the crowd going.

The set is truly hypnotising. Veering into Industrial Iggy Pop and bordering on happy hardcore at times, it is a fascinating performance throughout, especially in the encore 'Scissor', where a beautiful dreamy opening gives a false sense of security as the serenity is brutally interrupted by pounding drums, manic keys and Angus screeching and bounding enthusiastically touring the full length and width of the stage. Simply phenomenal.

After Liars' have had us on the edge of our seats, it's an unsurprising change of atmosphere, tempo and tone for headliners Godspeed You! Black Emperor. With a barely lit stage setting the stall and large projections behind, the band come on one by one and add their instruments to the track in short intervals to 'Hope Drone', with Thierry Amor's double-bass and Sophie Trudeau's violin leading the way and guitars, bass and percussion following. A wistful opener full of unsettling harmonics, it's a hypnotic start that leads neatly into the Luciferian Towers main set, which harkers back to their Lift Your Skinny Arms Like Antennas To Heaven era, with shimmering guitars and strings more to the fore rather than the heavy drone of recent releases, and it is played effortlessly and sumptuously this evening. 'Undoing A Luciferian Towers' and 'Anthem For No State' truly hit home, slow-burning epics, full of intrigue, atmosphere and dark undertones, but it's 'Bosses Hang' that's the star of the new album in the live setting. its descending, euphoric and optimistic guitar and violin lines mesmerises the audience in nodding appreciation from the off, drifting into repetitive classical Stereolab at their Neu-appreciative best, with added metal tinges and cinematic overtones, before returning to the gloriously triumphant opening position. An incredible performance.

When you think it can't get any better Murray Ostril's sampled 'They Don't Sleep on the Beach' appears to lead us into arguably their best song 'Monheim', and all emotional bets are off, as Sophie's mournful violin and the beautiful and heart-wrenching guitars gently take us forward, before drums and bass break through and the guitars open out and soar. It's been a long time since I've felt as immersed in a live performance as this, shared by pretty much the whole audience, judging by the absolute rapturous applause that greets its end.

The ever-reliable 'BBF3' ends proceedings. The build-up is incredibly patient, with Mike Moya's guitar, Sophie's violin and Timothy Herzog's subtle percussion adding textures to Blaise Bailey Finnegan III's sampled tones, as guitars, ominous drums, twin basses are added to an almost-crescendo. A haunting middle with Sophie's yearning violin standing out leads us into the mother of all finales, as instrumentation is subtly added before an all-out aural assault led by militaristic drumming envelops the audience. An emphatically immense and emotional end to a blistering gig.

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