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:: ¡Forward, Russia! :: Wolfmother :: Fields :: Maccabees ::
09 November 2006 / Academy 1 / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

The MTV2 Spanking New Music Tour rolls into town, another package tour not dissimilar to the NME and Levi's Ones To Watch circuses also currently doing the rounds; for the lazier music fan these nights offer a golden chance to see four supposedly hot acts under one roof and for the price of about one and a half normal gigs, whilst for the loyal fan of one of the featured artists it's a more expensive than usual ticket with probably a shorter than usual set. Maccabees fans, for instance, if they had no interest in the other bands, could have been back home (or in the pub) before most people have even gone out - the necessary tightness of a four band line-up meaning the hapless Brighton lads have to go on some time around teatime. Not that we feel we've missed much, only catching their last three songs - it's a ready-mix blend of Maximo Park, first album Razorlight, Interpol, Strokes and everything else that's had guitars in and been popular over the past few years. The tunes are hummable, the performance energetic enough, and I'm sure if you were 15 years old watching them in a sweaty cellar it'd be a pretty ace experience, but in a slowly filling Academy full of other bands' fans they fall rather flat.

Fields are frequently referred to as "pastoral", which isn't exactly one of the most flattering adjectives you could apply to a band - but then they're called Fields, and all their record sleeves and merchandise have trees and birds and things on them, so what do they expect? They really are quite wonderful though, a breath of fresh air (oops!) in a sweaty bill. Led by the crystalline vocal harmonies of sweet indie-boy Nick and gorgeous Icelandic keyboard player Thorunn it's like Stereolab with guitars, or the My Bloody Valentine of the the new shoegaze movement - gentle, certainly, but with an enchanting, glacial edge that saves them from being twee. A newer song called "Feathers" is even commercial sounding enough to cross them over from indie-land into a more pop arena, although it's unlikely that the fans of the last two bands who make up most of this crowd really "do" pop.

2006 has seen ¡Forward, Russia! go from being the biggest unsigned band in Britain (they eventually signed a deal with themselves, or at least stuck out their album on their own label) to a pretty big draw in their own right but they haven't lost any of their indie spirit; their loyal fanbase pack out the front rows and indulge in some ritual matey abuse of their roadie as the band unassumingly set up their own gear. Then heralded as ever by the electrofrenzy intro to "13" they blast onto the stage and immediately justify their reputation as one of the best live bands around. Tom flails around like a hairy pinball, Katie gives Fields' drumkit the battering it's never had in its day job, and Whiskas and Rob blast out the band's secret weapon - song after song stuffed to bursting with the boundless energy of screaming hardcore and the pointy spikes of math-rock, but which haven't neglected the importance of great big hook-filled Tunes. Tunes you can shout along to, even if Tom's intriguingly twisted and startlingly intelligent-sounding lyrics are largely incomprehensible to anyone outside of his own head. The band's early reliance on numbers for song titles gives the crowd's calls for favourites the air of some parallel universe reverse bingo game (“Numberwang” anyone ?- Ed), but the band are canny enough to realise that a unique trait can quickly become a millstone. The newest song in the set has a title - "Don't Be A Doctor" - crashing from one frantic time signature to the next it's not only a demented progressive punk rollercoaster the Cardiacs would be proud of but possibly the best thing they've written yet. They're on outstanding form despite (or possibly because of) this being about their millionth gig of the year and when the set ends with the glorious brain-assault that is "15 Part 2" it all seems over far too quickly.

Wolfmother come from Australia, clearly a remote part of Australia where it's still 1973. Big hair and bigger guitar licks. For all the cool press, they're basically a fairly unreconstructed metal band, in thrall to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Retreating quickly to the back, their merchandise stall gives further cause for concern - yes, for £15 you can have your very own screenprint of their scary-in-all-the-wrong-ways fantasy-novel artwork. Or how about some Wolfmother socks? No thanks lads, we saw Motorhead four days ago and you just don't rock hard enough. Within minutes of escaping I can't disentangle any of their songs from the Led Zep ones they sound like - at least The Darkness had some comedy value. So a 2 out of 4 for MTV2 from me – and I can’t see many people giving them more; as package tours go it’s maybe just a bit too much of a mixed bag.

The Maccabees
¡Forward, Russia! Web

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