In The City – Day Three. The Northern Quarter, Manchester. 16/10/2010

Review by Ian Burke

It’s the final hurrah of In The City 2010, and Nexus and Trof start the main body of tonight’s events as early as 5pm. Under normal circumstances, CityLifers would be down there in a flash to check out the likes of Bugs In Ember, Brown Brogues and the nightmarishly described “hillbilly dubstep” of Arlo And Fell.

However, a prior engagement means a fashionably/frustratingly late appearance, and a speedy dash up Gullivers’ tight, switchback staircase is just about quick enough to catch the very last note of Shapes. If perspiration is any indication of their prowess, they must have been amazing.

A little out on a limb from the other venues, the Ruby Lounge has still dragged in a respectable crowd for London snot-slingers, Flats, whose début EP may well be a hasty mess, but it suggests that they’d give a good cuffing live.

The cockney quartet gallop through a gamut of sub-two minute gadabouts, and while it appears they’re giving it the requisite 110%, they’re basically just a bunch of lads rehashing 30 year old Dead Kennedys tunes with none of the panache. They’re off at 9:03pm, which means they’ve played for exactly thirteen minutes, so either they’ve got no songs or things are running early here, too. At least you can’t miss a late bus.

After chatting to CityLifers Gigs Ed, Joss Worthington about his début as an ITC panellist earlier in the day (“aye, it were grairt”), it’s into The Legendary Dry Bar’s basement for the intriguingly-named Breton. All four members wear the unzipped, hoods-up hoodies look beloved of D/R/U/G/S as though it’s a uniform, completely ignoring the tropical temperatures which are so high the Night & Day’s management will doubtless flick the central heating on next door in a jealous, overly protective rage.

Their visual backdrop is at least interesting, looping various scientific and engineering feats without going into gruesome Flaming Lips territory, but the music is indie-electro wimpery of the lowest, most contrived order. In fact, they’re borderline out of order.

Shoshin are back outside Café Pop, this time with 20 or so smiling faces at their behest, and it turns out that they’re dab hands at this guerilla gigging malarkey, having popped up in London previously to make that all-important “oh yeah, there was some band playing on the street” first impression. At least they’re better than those chancers on the flatbed truck outside the Midland at ITC a couple of years ago, but c’mon, do some proper gigs.

Back in the Witchwood-shaped function room of Gullivers, Castrovalva are making an utter nuisance of themselves, with the top of Antony Wright’s bass threatening to shatter the skull of Leemun Smith as he screams into the faces of five immaculately dressed punters on the front row.

“Come back” Smith pleads with mock hurt as they leave, “I can change!”

“I think you fucked that up” Wright grins back.

As one of them was the saintly Alexa Chung (or at least the greatest lookalike the world has ever seen), I’m inclined to agree. Would I bum her? Ooooh, don’t be mucky. But yeah, in a heartbeat. Provided I wasn’t already married, which I am, of course. Soz, Alexa.

The Leeds-based trio aren’t preening, don’t take themselves seriously, and certainly don’t ricochet around because of some misplaced notion of “that’s what you’re meant to do” (take note, Flats), they’re simply making boundary-less, groove-infested noise with constant near-the-knuckle in-jokes and dozy smiles on their faces. In short, they’re unmissable.

Over the road, and miracle of miracles, The Castle’s magnificently restored back room is just about accessible a few minutes before Windmill make one of their rare live appearance. Stained glass hugs one wall, while a chandelier with a good 10-foot of dangle teeters from the eaves above the quartet, fronted by the unassuming Matthew Dillon, who has an old backstage pass stuck to his cap.

‘Airsuit’, the opener from their current ‘Epcot Starfields’ LP is an atmospheric, yet still stark masterpiece, faithfully replicated here with Dillon’s peculiar, nasal caw cutting through the now-rammed room like vocal yoghurt.

“Are you ready, space rangers?” he asks, stepping away from his keyboard, and firing off a salute as the band slip into ‘Big Boom’. ‘Asthmatic’ follows, and for once, I find my way to the front, put my pen and pad away, and just enjoy the show. It’s the biggest compliment a writer could ever pay.

Other bands carry on into the small hours, but they’d only deflate the very nearly tearful elation (seriously) after Windmill.

Before we sign off for ITC this year, however, let’s hear a huge round of applause to the bar staff at all the venues. There wasn’t a single sour face among them, and the re-invention of Gullivers looks like being a welcome grubby addition to the Manchester gig circuit.

Despite the little grumbles about ticketing and bands being unintentionally shafted in the ITC guide, this year’s event was a much-needed return to form after an underwhelming 2009. Hopefully, the organisers will be able to keep things this compact again next time, and holding it from Wednesday-Friday is pretty much spot on.

Same again next year? Too right.

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