British Sea Power, SLUG: O2 Ritz, Manchester

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British Sea Power

As British Sea Power tour their new album, Getintothis’ Paul Higham finds the cult heroes a revitalised force with a relevant message that proves just the tonic for this dispiriting age.

For a band whose career has been noted for its willingness to search out unusual and off-beat venues there should feel something downright ordinary seeing British Sea Power on a conventional tour.

Just another brief stop in a different city before hitting the road again, heading to the next unloved and corporate-sponsored joint.

Yet as much as tonight makes one yearn for the club night spectacles of yore, the excitable social-club camaraderie of Krankenhaus say, the palapable sense of excitement and expectation in the air proves beyond all reasonable doubt that British Sea Power remain one of our finest groups. One capable of treading the tightrope between cult heroes and national treasures with aplomb.

Those coming in search of the reasons for their enduring appeal and continued relevance will have found many answers. The set was constructed around the new album, Let the Dancers Inherit the Party with its understated yet nonetheless powerful messages coming to the fore in the live arena.

There is a definite political edge. A band with something to say. Set opener Bad Bohemian bristles with sharper corners than on the record. This is a repurposing of nostalgia, to remember what we once had but have now lost all delivered with a dose of defiance.

There are allusions to Brexit (“what’s done is done and there’ll be no redemption“) but the neglect of culture and the artistic heritage of the future falls under greatest scrutiny. “Don’t let us die while we are still alive“. Quite.

This continues through International Space Station, the cooperative internationalism of its message giving way to a glorious cosmic wig-out delivered with indignant rage. Interestingly the first older song of the set was Who’s In Control, their most overtly political single and whose anti-austerity message leaps to the defence of libraries and learning. “I just read a book / I’m not even scary“.

When the fight is being led by a largely introverted indie band it provides a measure of not only how badly we have been let down but how few are willing to make themselves heard. Ivy Lee continues the message. Its expansive wistfulness belies its denunciation of the pernicious corruption of information and use of algorithms to target and perpetuate the dissemination of fake news.

What was striking was the strength of the new material. It didn’t jar, never feeling like it was something to get through before the old classics were brought out. They had an edge and bite, possessed of that indefinable British Sea Power quality.

An introspective expansionism that veers towards windswept cinematic vistas and bold imagery before being driven relentlessly forward by a propelling motorik force.

New songs feel like they have been part of the British Sea Power furniture for some time. Perhaps that’s the key. Don’t rush new material, work it through, hone it. Understand your own songs.

And in taking the time between 2013’s Machineries of Joy and this they have done just that. Revitalised and renewed, it reminds why we first fell in love with them back in our first flushes of youth.

The band give intermittent clues to their musical influences. Noticeably when mining their own b-side archives for a cover of Galaxie 500‘s Tugboat, but also with the sweeping post-rock build of Skua and, elsewhere, moments of swirlingly coruscating guitar-crunching wig-outs that drew worthy comparison to Deerhunter.

While much of the first half of the set saw the band eager to demonstrate themselves as keenly forward-looking, they do prove that there is a place for old favourites. Waving Flags has seldom sounded more relevant, Spirit of St Louis is imbued with sense of adventurous danger while Carrion confirmed its place atop the British Sea Power pedestal. A perfect summation of all at which they excel, it still radiates and excites all these years later.

British Sea Power’s Martin Noble talks new album, Polish animation and season ticket tattoos

It is their understanding of musical tension coupled with a profound sense of their own identity and comfort in their own skin that makes British Sea Power such a compelling force. With opportunities to conquer the mainstream having been spurned, they seem happiest on the fringes, freed from the pressures of conforming and able to quietly rail against society’s ills. It seems their cult following would agree.

SLUG provided a contrasting opening. Traffic difficulties delayed their arrival, forcing a hasty stage set-up, yet they still managed to put on a show.

Hailing from Sunderland and having more than strong affiliations with Field Music the influence of their label-mates is keenly felt. Yet in many ways SLUG have a more experimental feel, borrowing from the prog-pop ’80s template but twisting and subverting it.

Notes of Prince and Funkadelic abound while the tendency towards the funk is counter-balanced by noise-rock guitar shrieks and some wonderfully inventive drum patterns. Frontman Ian Black sought to down-play the band’s appeal in gently self-deprecating tones and it was clear that they did divide opinion.

Yet who cares if they are not “a typical British Sea Power Band” (although we’ve seen such a varied cast of support acts to suggest the band favour the eclectic over sonic copycats), they moved more than enough limbs to offset the frowns indicating that they are well worthy of your further attention.

And who needs a soundcheck.

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