The Soft Pack

The Ruby Lounge, Manchester 19/02/2010

By Craig Nelson

There is a buzz about The Ruby Lounge as The Soft Pack take to the stage. The bar empties and the dance floor fills with an odd assortment of young indie types and older-looking mods.

This sudden surge pricks my anticipation, expecting bigger and bigger things from this four-piece gang from the west coast of America. Yet my first impressions are a bit mixed.

Lead singer Matt Lamkin takes to the mic in a polo t-shirt and round neck sweater, all very casual. His montone Californian drawl is barely audible and as guitarist Matty McLoughlin strikes up the first chords, the band seems to be affected by a collective lack of enthusiasm. Only bouncy bassist David Lantzman looks up for the gig, rhythmically jigging about on the spot with eyes closed, totally into it (although his beanie hat gives Dave a look of Bennie from Crossroads – ouch).

The first few songs sound like indie-punk by numbers, with these clean-cut, normal looking fellas unable to muster up the necessary snarl and menace. Imagine Iggy Pop in slacks with his bare chest covered by a pullover – it doesn’t work. Yet half way through the set, the band begins to build up a head of steam.

Lamkin’s laconic voice starts to betray more emotion, taking on a hint of Lou Reed crossed with Tim Booth. At the same time, the guitars crank up a notch, Lantzman’s jigging gets more frenzied and Brian Hills’drumming beats out a railroad rhythm as the songs take on a more original, Americana feel.

It’s at this point that the lead singer gets serious, rips off the pullover and starts to bear his teeth. The crowd reacts and I feel myself drawn closer to the front. You can now see why the band has been drafted in to play support slots for The Last Shadow Puppets and Franz Ferdinand. I am now totally tuned into their performance and realise just how tight they are musically.

It’s as if they have been working themselves into a stupor as individuals before coming together as a band. All of a sudden, McLoughlin is creating high-pitched riffs that sound like he is playing a Velvet Underground classic from inside of a wardrobe.

It may sound odd, but it’s brilliant and clever.

By the time The Soft Pack reluctantly leave the stage, the crowd is swaying, baying for more, and I find myself wondering what happened.

From starting out as a sceptic, I end up downloading their eponymous debut album, wondering where I can catch The Soft Pack again before they head back to the States.

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