Monday, 25 May 2009

Sweat, nudity, and Morrissey: that was a good weekend

I'm skint now. Well, more so. But I'm happy.

My good friend John, who I have not seen for yonks, came up from London on Friday. John is thirty-nine years old, lives on the dole, and gave up on romance three years ago. He is, in spite of all this, the coolest fucker I know. A while ago, he tried to count how many gigs he'd been to in his life and gave up around the 2,500 mark. Amazing.

Friday night we ventured into Chorlton for the 'Friends of Mine' indoor festival thang going on at the Irish Centre, principally to see The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, a band we saw together supporting the Wedding Present last year and fell in love with from the off. I realised when we were on the bus that I'd forgotten my ticket (I'm blond on the inside), so John went in and I spent an hour knocking around Chorlton bars waiting for my flatmate to arrive, who kindly brought it along. It was worth the wait.

The first band we saw were pretty atrocious, one of those odd mis-billings where someone decided that a mad-fer-it, lad-rock outfit in Courteeners haircuts would make a good warm-up for a decidely less macho Brooklynite indie-pop gang in cardigans. 'This one's for anyone who's dropped a pill tonight!' the singer declared before one of the songs, to an audience who one suspects would equate that sentiment with losing their hayfever tablets sooner than swallowing illegal substances. The next and final support act, however, were astonishingly good. Dutch Uncles are a local band I'd heard some good things about, but nothing that prepared me for the wonder ahead. They share a rhythmic kinship with Field Music, and there's a bit of the Foals about them, but they nonetheless create something quite in its own league. What really impressed me was how tight and musically accomplished they were as a band. There was nary a 4/4 in sight - in fact, they work in constantly shifting, ridiculous time signatures - and yet that rhythmic dexterity served to underpin the quality tunes they have, rather than to compensate for a lack of them. This is borderline math-rock, but it's fun and quite, quite brilliant. Also the singer's attire and dancing have to be seen to be believed. Check out Dutch Uncles if you get the chance.

Then came the Pains of Being Pure At Heart. I've waffled on enough already, so I'll try and keep it brief. This was possibly the best gig of my life. I'd just been offered a ticket to see Morrissey the following night, which was the perfect giddy tonic before they came on. When they did, they all looked a little nervous. As soon as they launched into the set though, the crowd went for it. Just as I had upon my frustratingly brief first glimpse of them last year, the audience fell in love with the Pains, and the feeling was apparently mutual. 'This is the best night of our lives... you guys are awesome!' was Kip Berman's response to the delirium in front of him, before dedicating the next song to Manchester. About ten minutes later, still reeling, he was dedicating his second song to the city. I was at the front row, singing, pogo-ing, dancing, whooping, arms aloft. So was more or less everyone else. By the time a bewildered Berman and co. returned to the stage for an encore - in an Irish Working Men's Club, I remind you - band and audience alike were drenched in sweat. We walked back to Withington elated, stickier than most, but most certainly happy.

The following day, I had work at nine. (I worked all Bank Holiday weekend, which, along with the gigs, contributed to my general frazzlement as I write this.) After getting home from work, I longed for nothing more than a nice long nap. Nothing more, that is, than perhaps the sole exception of going to see Mr Steven Patrick Morrissey perform in concert for the first time.

I used to pretty much hate Morrissey's solo stuff. When I lived in Didsbury last year, the two blokes I shared a flat with played his solo stuff all day and all night. I found it all a bit flimsy, twee, too much emphasis on clever words and not enough on interesting music. Recently, that changed big time. Probably because it wasn't blaring out after getting home from a long day's work for the hundreth time, I actually listened to his music for the first time. I discovered his 1994 classic Vauxhall and I, and majestic songs like Speedway and Now My Heart Is Full. I went back to Ringleader of the Tormentors and was bowled over by how much it impressed me, when once I couldn't see its charms. I suddenly saw what made people obsess over the man, and I began to as well.

Bad timing I guess. Standing in the swelling crowd of paunchy, bequiffed men in their thirties at the Apollo, I waited to see the man I had grown to idolise. And thusly he arrived, as an idol in the classic sense: a relic. A Smiths-heavy setlist, while joyous to hear for the many fans there who, like myself, never got a chance to see the short-lived but legendary band, added to the sense that we were watching a tribute act, each audience member colluding in a slightly tragic nostalgia-fest. The contrast could not have been starker. Last night I had seen a band who were at the other end of their career, ferocious in their raw, youthful vigour, and very much at the top of their game; young, beautiful, wide-eyed, and fucking brilliant. It was the kind of gig you immediately felt proud to have witnessed, as I imagine many of the early Smiths concerts were. And, twenty-four hours later, that was just the problem. Morrissey looked bored, washed-out. When he twice tore his shirt off before the crowd, it struck me as a little unnecessary, undignified even, for a man who had just turned fifty the previous evening. And while the older material sounded great, beefed up by the heavier guitar sound of his new band, the songs from his new record fell distinctly flat. No Suedehead, no Everyday Is Like Sunday. I left feeling no less affection for his music, but a tinge of disappointment at what had become of the man himself. Your idols always let you down in the end I suppose.

After this, sweaty once more, we trundled into the city centre to see my friend and co-worker's excellent band, Six 10 Repeater. Terrible name, but great songs, as evidenced by the fact that I have endeavoured to see them every time they play in Manchester. This time they put in as stunning a performance as ever, throwing about every rock shape and pose in the book, but this time there was no adoring crowd to recieve them. Nine Black Alps had been on before them, and Stuart was shitting himself about going on in front of the large audience that had gathered to see them. After NBA added to their label of 'Nirvana tribute act' the prefix 'failed', the room emptied. About seven people watched Six 10 Repeater, of which I constituted the entire front row. Shame, but another great live show nonetheless, marred only by the drummer's repeated insistence on revealing his own chest. Having seen quite enough half-naked men for one evening, I trundled home again.

Which brings us bang up to the present, wherein I am mercifully showered and fully-dressed. No more sweat and nudity for a while ta. Still plenty of Morrissey though, and his successors in indie fandom.