British Sea Power - Manchester Ritz - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

British Sea Power - Manchester Ritz

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:

After lower key gigs at Manchester venues in the last year or so British Sea Power are back at the Ritz, a decent, mid-sized venue famous for its wobbly floor and sticky carpet. First up though are support band Teeth of the Sea, who wander onto stage as if they've been plucked from four different bands. Their mixture of scientist crossed with punk throwback look could be summarised as Geek Geek Sputnik, perhaps. However, this would do them a disservice and they produce a mesmerising instrumental noise that bemuses much of the audience but is simply excellent. With the guitarist's 'Flying V' guitar and rock god persona and at one stage the use of a beer bottle for the frets, you'd expect hair rock riffs of the mid 80s to be produced. However with the regular use of e-bow and effects the sound that emerges is lush and reverb drenched.

A simple repetitive drumming pattern from the stand up drummer and electronics drives the four song set along, allowing the bassist/trumpeter to set the melody. The overall sound at different times takes elements from King Crimson-esque prog, space rock, drone, goth, metal, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Sonic Youth, Earth, Black Sabbath and electronic glitchiness, and is far more than the sum of its parts. They are far more organic than many bands that trudge a similar path, playing all the sounds live rather than padding their set with pre-recorded electronics, and are a superb, if an odd choice for BSP's support. Whereas kindred spirits Factory Floor pummel you into submission, Teeth of the Sea entrance and enthral and on this form blow BSP away. A quote from a BSP fan behind suggests that Teeth of the Sea are the wrongest looking band in the world, "gloriously wrong". I would suggest they are gloriously right.

British Sea Power have been an excellent live act, forging their idiosyncratic and uniquely British path, over the past decade. However, they seemed to have tamed everything down tonight. There is foliage and ornithology on the stage but the stuffed owls and matching outfits of the past are long gone.

Opening with 'Who's in Control', BSP treat the audience to an array of anthemic and polished numbers with many coming from new album Valhalla Dancefloor. However, there is a distinct lack of spark to the set and it is often met with general indifference from the crowd. Only when classic oldies such as 'Remember Me' and 'Apologies to Insect Life' are played does the audience emerge from their subdued stupor. Though the band have expanded their sound with violin and an additional guitarist/keyboardist, the ragged edges and tension of the past which made the band so compelling seems to have been lost. Although it's unsurprising that the antics of old are not evident in the early numbers with a set pushing nearly two hours, it seems that the band are treading water. There's certainly nothing wrong with the performance, it continues to be crowd-pleasing but workmanlike with something missing, and the band at times appear aged and rather sterile.

Where the performance does take a giant leap forward, though, is when bassist Hamilton takes centre stage for a few songs mid-set. 'The Land Beyond' is enchanting and the whole aesthetic of the band seems to change, becoming more wholesome and complete. The highlight though is 'Once More Now'. Hamilton's delicate vocals, more Lou Reed and Nick Drake meets Ian Gittins of The Pale Saints than Yan's David Byrne, are beautifully supplemented by the band, with the song starting slowly and veering from a driving epic to a tranquil ending. It is a breathtakingly emotional delight, possibly the best song they've ever written and performed live, that is sadly not followed-up in the remainder of the set.

It's always a danger putting on a support band that can potentially upstage the headliners and it certainly happened here. Teeth of the Sea were majestic and their superb set could well have put a dampener on BSP's often subdued performance. BSP certainly need to evolve or at least hone on their strengths before they become too stagnated or worse, simply forgotten.

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