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:: British Sea Power ::
16 October 2003 / Academy 3 / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

I have, many times, been accused of having rather an excess of musical civic pride, and it’s a tough one to deny. A flick through my record collection could certainly be considered damning evidence.

Which is why I’ve been feeling faintly treacherous of late. Friends are concerned. I struggled to even admit it to myself for a while. I have fallen completely and madly in love with a band who... are not from Manchester!

But first, a support. Glide consists of Will Sargeant from the Bunnymen and a laptop, creating kaleidoscopic swathes of sound with projections to match. Musically it's pitched somewhere between Death In Vegas and Orbital and for me works several hundred times better than the "here's another band in a roughly similar style but not as good" supports record companies generally inflict on indie audiences. Definitely worth seeing in his own right, especially as his slot here only appeared to last about 15 minutes. But the stage needs to be prepared... check guitars, align owls, test drum mics, attach trees to monitors...

The first time I saw them I wasn't sure what to make of it all; I'd seen some terrible bands hide behind an image, but that night I left wide-eyed and enraptured. British Sea Power's first secret weapon is the most evocative songs I've heard in years, and tonight's proceedings kick off with the song that reeled me in, "Fear of Drowning". As singer Yan's strange half-whisper-half-shout vocals start the place goes absolutely crazy. Someone has handed me a ruler with a model aircraft taped to it. Sometimes "why" is irrelevant. "Apologies To Insect Life" is a mass of caustic guitar riffs and semi-feral howling, and "Spirit Of St Louis", never one of the band's strongest moments on record, almost blows the walls out with energy. The set covers most of the album, with the mid-set blast of "Remember Me", reissued on Monday, particularly well received. Then it's time for the other secret weapon in the form of Yan's bass-playing brother Hamilton, aka the one with the stare. He takes the lead vocal for the quieter moments, "A Lovely Day Tomorrow" and Blackout", the latter being possibly the most heart-wrenchingly gorgeous song ever written about hyperventilating. He looks and sings like he's time travelled from the golden age of indie-pop, possibly via a hedge, and is utterly compelling to watch. And anyone who bought “Remember Me” first time round has a great excuse to buy it again in the form of the new B-side “Salty Water”, rapidly becoming a set favourite amongst the (admittedly mostly bonkers, but in a most amiable way) BSP faithful. The main set’s rounded off with a rousing version of last single “Carrion”.

Now I’ve always loved a band that know how to do an encore properly… take a great song and throw whatever comes into your head at it, in BSP’s case the already fairly unhinged “Lately”. There are bits of tree flying everywhere, Woody giving the drumkit some serious punishment, Yan screaming, gasping, attempting a headstand and generally conducting himself in a manner that Iggy Pop would be proud of. For a good 20 minutes.

I’ll admit I’ve seen quite a few gigs on this tour, and there’s that feeling, that glorious electricity been running though all of them. Like the Stone Roses at the International all those years ago… the thrill of watching a band that are about to go supernova. I know I’ve been wrong before (but hey, it’s not my fault Nylon Pylon haven’t had a number one yet is it?) but I reckon Top of the Pops before the month’s out. And do you know what? I can’t wait…

Photo (c) Cath Aubergine 2003

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