Monday, February 09, 2015

Live Review :: Altar Flowers :: Kraak Gallery, Manchester - Feb 7 2015

Altar Flowers  + The Debt Stars + Grave Diggers Union

Kraak Gallery, Manchester

February 7 2015

Words/Photos: Dave Beech

Kraak Gallery isn't one Manchester's easiest venues to find, nor is it one of the most visually arresting. It IS however, integral to Manchester's grass-roots movement(s). Integral not because of the reputation of the venue itself or the alumni that has passed through its hallowed halls, but because of how easily it lends itself as DIY venue, a place for fledgling promoters and fresh-faced bands to cut their teeth before taking the next step in their career. Tonight also sees the venue marking the return of Manchester's LVLS (Loveless) under their new guise as Altar Flowers.

The task of opening this evening's proceedings however, falls to local duo Grave Diggers Union, whose morose and atmospheric post-punk manages to draw the crowd from the fringes of room. Kicking off with 'Clouds' the first track from their recent EP, the pair soon make it clear that they don't possess the sunniest of dispositions. More twisted Lynchian dystopia than traditionally formatted songs, they rattle through their short set with no crowd interaction, preferring instead to allow the haunting atmosphere they perpetuate to do the talking for them.

With blue light cascading on to the stage, it's not the pair's final track that leaves a lasting impression, but the brooding and repeated hook of their penultimate number 'Ivy' that really stays in the mind. “You'll die alone,” muses singer Nik Brierley. He's not wrong, but it's not the chirpiest way to begin a night. That said, Grave Diggers Union are a band worth keeping both eyes on, and contrary to an early heckle, are anything but “shit”.

Second on tonight's bill are Liverpool lads The Debt Stars, a trio whose sound flirts with sixties pop, lite-psych, rock 'n' roll, and rolls it all neatly into one, almost typically Scouse-sounding, package. Fortunately, that only goes as far as the music itself, which brings to mind The Who, by way of The Zutons on a number of occasions. Packing nine tracks in to reasonably short stage time, the trio banter back and forth with a crowd which has filled out a little now, though is still nowhere near full.

With a distinctly Mod, feel about them, The Debt Stars are probably this evening's most accessible band, though later track 'Smile' offsets the more poppy elements in favour of a little more rawness. A quick debate on whether they're running on time or not, and they launch in to the urgent and penultimate 'Skeleton', its rolling bass giving way quickly to 'Fox News', ending their set with a bang.

The first to introduce themselves tonight (though likely the band that need it the least) are Altar Flowers, who seem barely able to fit all four of them on Kraak's small stage. Opening with 'Hoker' it's clear the band possess ambitions to match their stadium-sized sounds. With an excellent balance between male and female vocals, Altar Flowers uphold a particularly dream-poppy vibe, though tend to lean much heavier on the poppier aspects of such a tag, though never manage to completely lose the overtones of goth and even shoegaze which underpin the entire set.

It's clear their previous experience as LVLS has benefited the band fantastically, and despite this being their first gig under a new name, there's not a hint of nerves shown by any of the four members, not even a couple of slight technical hiccups can overshadow a set as impassioned as theirs. Tracks like 'Young and Cruel' are full of shimmering guitars and crashing percussion, the vocals coming courtesy of singer Jay Gibb never short of impressive whilst the pulsating bass lines from Charlotte Hughes are simple but always effective; how she manages to keep time whilst appearing dwarfed by her instrument is a testament to her ability as a bassist, whilst her backing vocals provide the perfect edge to Gibb's tenor.

“We've got two songs left,” proclaims Gibb. “One's soppy as fuck, and, well, the other is too,” and with that they launch in to an excellently improvised version of 'Hand in Hand' which seems the drummer cracking up. Closing track 'WSCBF' sees the lead guitarist emerge from the shadowed side of the stage, posing many to ask the question of how did he fit in to those jeans? Talc and self-belief is this writers suggestion, but clothing enigmas aside, it sees the set end in a rousing and calamitous climax which would fill much bigger venues than this.

It's a shame that there wasn't more of a crowd tonight, with each band feeling more deserving of the bigger numbers. Each band was well received, however, and despite the varied sounds, brought together a disparate crowd that, whilst somewhat thin on the ground, at the same time banded together to support three acts in the early stages of their career.

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