Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto
It has only been two months since The Barr Brothers’ last visit to Manchester. Supporting the War on Drugs at The Apollo on paper seemed like the ideal combination, but the overall experience ultimately proved to be an underwhelming one. Was it the cavernous surroundings that conspired against the Montreal outfit? The more subtle nuances present on the new record certainly seemed to be diminished when listening from a distance. Did the preoccupied and restless crowd have an impact? The experience was certainly not indicative of the incredible quality on display on their latest and greatest album, Queen of the Breakers. Fast forward a few months and the band are back, taking in some of the best club venues in the UK and the evening could not have been a more contrasting experience.
Before the show begins Brad Barr spends several minutes on a darkened stage, diligently tuning the large array of electric and acoustic guitars and ukulele’s, ensuring the settings for the multitude of pedals that carpet the small stage space at Gorilla in Manchester’s city centre venue are spot on. This demonstration of the need for absolute precision proves to be a theme running through the entire evening. This focussed assiduity is equalled by a demonstration of matchless musical innovation and a creative rapport with his band members that is a joy to behold.
The evening begins in subtle fashion with Defibrillation. The track opens Queen of the Breakers and the gentle Paul Simon inflections guide the rhythm which the song effortlessly pursues. The majesty of both parts of Hideous Glorious follow. Harpist Sarah Page is no longer with the band and you could argue that the musician’s distinctive contribution provided the band with a unique selling point. It’s fair to say that although the band are noticeably different in Sarah’s absence, the focus has just been transferred elsewhere, specifically Brad’s guitar work, which is nothing short of mesmerising. Look Before it Changes aches mournfully, the pedal steel guitar adding sombre Americana tones to the Malian influences and Brad Barr’s more manic looping ukulele rhythms. In the smaller confines of this Manchester venue, this finespun opening to the show proves to be utterly compelling one and a complete contrast to the Apollo experience.
Queen of the Breakers ups the tempo with its driving expression of love and friendship and by this point Brad Barr has informed us all that Sarah Page has not come for the ride on this particular tour. Social media announcements make the departure seem more permanent than the Montreal native makes it sound tonight, but regardless of band politics, the song provides a pleasing introduction to Sarah’s replacement on this tour and the uplifting harmonies required towards the conclusion of the song have a more southern twang which add a pleasingly fresh dimension to a song that has been on a permanent loop in this household since the album’s release.
Over half the evening is dedicated to the latest record but their is a majestic pace to proceedings and a return to 2014 release Sleeping Operator and the soothing Even Darkness Has Arms remind us all once again of the multitude of influences that infuse the band’s music and Brad Barr maintains the fragile core of the evening’s performance with an unplugged collaboration with his brother, joining around an illuminated mic to perform Song that I Heard and How the Heroine Dies. The Manchester audience are utterly respectful during these more reflective moments, providing gentle harmonies of their own to compliment those of the rest of the band and it is clear during these moments that Brad Barr is truly appreciative of the audience’s dignified appreciation. I can sadly think of plenty of moments when this has not always been the case.
If there is one track on the album that has validated the new record’s concept and design it is You Would Have to Lose Your Mind and the band decide to close on this majestic song, complete with soaring guitar solos that feel organic, almost painful and directly in tune with the Brad’s emotions and intense vocals, which leave claw marks on your soul and make the house lights the most intrusive moment of the evening as the band depart to rapturous applause.
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