The Roadhouse’s popularity may have diminished in the face of the Deaf Institute’s monopolistic hold on the Manchester music scene, but it still makes for a great live venue. On paper, the Tuesday immediately following a Bank Holiday Monday is not an ideal night to put on an event, but the way to counter that is to book a lineup too good to ignore. That’s the strategy promoters Underachievers Please Try Harder and Hey! Manchester went with, and as the place fills up a sense of anticipation starts to build amongst an audience who know that they’re about to see something special.
Opening band The ABC Club wear their influences on their sleeves just enough that you know where they’re coming from (which is New York City by way of Manchester), but not so much as to sound derivative. The guitar interplay hints at the Strokes, but the vocals are less Julian Casablanca’s affected nonchalance and more Debbie Harry’s restrained passion without the overtly pop trappings, unhurried yet still urgent and full of soul. The scattershot energy of the drumming complements the songs perfectly, and the overall effect is immensely impressive. Clearly, this is a band with enough in their repertoire to release a great debut album in the not-too-distant future.
Help Stamp Out Loneliness (pictured above) have already done that; their fantastic first record inevitably drew comparisons to Belle and Sebastian, but they’re a very different proposition live. Their songs feel more charged, more powerful, like Beat Happening without the rough edges. D. Lucille Campbell’s vocals shine in this setting, too; the lyrics switch effortlessly from withering putdowns to genuine heartbreak, and the delivery of every line is flawless. Enough of their indie pop insticts shine through to get the audience shuffling along to the music, and everything about them suggests that there is still a hell of a lot more to come.
The evening’s main attraction more than live up to the high standards set by the support bands. Comet Gain (pictured first) are purveyors of a very British brand of indie: that means earnest lyrics married to infectious melodies, guitars competing against slightly shouted vocals, and a confidence that may well be entirely bravado. Once they launch into their set, there’s energy enough in the music to evoke the spirit of ’77 (the Undertones, rather than the Pistols), and the atmosphere is almost celebratory, as though the band are fully aware that they’ve just put out their best album to date. Indeed, the songs from the justly lauded Howl Of The Lonely Crowd stand out, and the crowd is on board from the start. More nuanced than first impressions suggest, there is an understated beauty that underpins their very best tracks, and they turn in the type of performance that suggests their status as future indie rock royalty is guaranteed.
Upon leaving, anticipation has given way to certainty: we have just seen something special. An outstanding lineup means nothing if the bands don’t deliver on the night, yet all three acts easily exceeded expectations. That two of them hail from Manchester makes it all the sweeter.