I arrive to a bustling crowd outside the Soup Kitchen in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Very busy, I think, for a Thursday night. It turns out that a local artist is exhibiting his work in the big windows of the bar (all of which are giant replications of album covers from local Manchester bands, one being Dutch Uncles).
I realise that it’s already 9:15pm, the band I’m here to see are on in 15 minutes. I meet a friend at the bar who informs me that the support act, local Manchester band Trojan Horse, were ‘stomping’. I take this as a compliment for a band that is described on their website as “Noisy rock prog bastards”. Oh, I long for the days of Oceansize.
I make excuses for being late saying that as a man about town 8:30pm is far too early to catch a band. I neglected to say that the real reason I’m late is because I’d forgotten my bus pass, only realising this as I get on the bus at the first attempt. Anyway, on to the gig. As I descend the stairs down into the dark depths of the Soup Kitchen, I’m met with a packed room full of eager Slug fans.
I’m a bit taken a back by the band’s popularity, having only released debut album Ripe three days earlier. However, after spotting at least five Field Music t-shirts on my way through the crowd I’m reminded of the backbone of the band about to take the stage; Field Music founders Peter and David Brewis who have enjoyed modest success, most recently with their 2012 Mercury Music Prize nominated album Plumb. These two make up keyboards and bongos for Slug and also produced the album at their Roker studio.
The band arrive onstage just after 9:30pm dressed in full dinner wear, red bowties and all. Front man Ian Black, former bass player for Field Music and the mastermind behind Slug addresses the crowd, who are giving a warm Mancunian welcome…
‘Good evening Soup Kitchen.’
Black’s Mackem accent is unmistakable. Small in stature, especially when stood next to the giant figure of Andrew Lowther on Bass, he still commands great respect from fellow members of the band as they all turn and look to him to begin what will be the last night of their tour. Drummer Rhys Patterson is last to take to the stage and disappears behind his kit. I don’t see him again until the band finishes.
Opener and first track from the album ‘Grimacing Mask’ silences the crowd as Black holds the gaze of individual members of the audience throughout the gentle and eerie track complete with wood blocks setting the rhythm. The band then flies into lead single ‘Cock-eyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic’ which hints at early Muse and an obvious Field Music influence throughout. It also contains one of the catchiest guitar riffs this year and has earned them air time on BBC 6Music in recent months.
Sticking to track by track order on the album the band reaches the unquestionably catchy ‘Greasy Mind’ which gains the most rapturous applause of the night whilst Black croons: ‘You and your two armed brain, I wish to entertain’
By this point, the band look settled, in control and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Peter and David seem happy to take the back seat from their usual front of stage duties and let Black’s dry wit and excitable stage presence take the lead. He thanks the audience for attending between each song with apparent sincerity – one of my favourite things at a gig; to be thanked for making a journey to see an artist who in turn takes you on a journey of their own.
The band briefly departs during the interlude ‘Weight of Violence’, a slow dreamy track that is led by steel drums and reminds me of sitting on a beach in the sun. Initially, I didn’t think the track worked on the album because of the dramatic dent it imparts to the overall pace, but it serves a purpose tonight and the band returns to the stage dressed in black and fire into the single ‘Running To Get Past Your Heart’, a track with yet more catchy guitars, minimalist lyrics and the first bongo solo of the night.
As they finish the final song in their set, ‘Kill Your Darlings’, the only track that is swapped around from the album track list on the night, the Soup Kitchen erupts once again and the entire band are all smiles and bows – which would have been better if they’d kept the dinner wear.
BBC 6Music’s Marc Riley, whom I’d spotted at the bar earlier, gets a special thank you from the band – ‘We know we wouldn’t be here tonight without him’ – and a small cheer goes up in the corner of the room.
After returning to encore with a jammed out version of ‘Running To Get Past Your Heart’ from earlier in the set, which sees Black set up his own personal drum kit, the band retire from the stage for the last time. I head towards the stairs with the crowd still cheering for more. As the house lights come on and the room brightens, I’m left wondering if the future of Slug will be as bright or if this gig is to be a collector’s item. Either way, the crowd would agree that it was a definite night to remember.
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