UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA + SPLASHH
Deaf Institute, Manchester | May 6th
Has Manchester’s sempiternal winter finally come to an end? Crack ponders this as the first sunburn of the year graces its fiery palm across our soft, malnourished skins. The perpetual cold snap seems defeated for now, and the hordes of Vitamin-D starved Mancunians have taken to the streets, the public parks, and the beer gardens in a unified, tops-off statement of victory.
This sun-soaked fantasy is underlined by the colourful assortment of revellers collected together on the Deaf Institute’s roof terrace for tonight’s gig. Smiles beam from every corner as boys avidly contest their favourite songs from the band’s latest album, whilst jolly, bearded young men spill their obligatory sunny day pints on groups of students dressed in paisley shirts.
It was a topical atmosphere, then, for Splashh’s summery ocean-pop vibes. Whilst the glorious weather would have usually kept most people positioned firmly in the face of the sun’s rays, the reverberating chords of Splashh’s jangly, washy guitars make a pretty strong point about the sun’s inability to stimulate all of the senses. With elevating four-chord choruses, shimmering arpeggios and all the nostalgia of that first spliff you smoked on the beach in the 90s, songs like Sun-Kissed Bliss, Vacation and All I Wanna Do brought the weather right inside for a bright and merry introduction to the night’s headliners.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s jaunt on stage was no less satisfying, merging an onslaught of finger-picked guitar jams with soulful vocals and 100 degrees of oomph supplied by an absolute monster behind the drums in Riley Geare. The jazzy, Mitch Mitchell-esque beatnik was given a fitting testimony mid-set as his two fellow compadres take a well-deserved break from their engrossing set, sitting down on the stage floor as all eyes were directed towards the source of a phenomenal, funked-up drum solo. The man was on fire the whole night, though the astounding musicianship shared between this power trio trumped any suggestion of dominance by the stickmaster. Jacob Portrait’s gaze and occasional twitches of bass-face (the good kind) supplant the tender intricacies of these richly composed tracks, whilst Ruban Nielson’s sporadic bodily jerks inject an element of At The Drive-In into a range of tracks from the band’s two excellent albums. A new song, a Jay Reatard cover, and a final improvised wig-out draw the set to a magnificent end, solidifying one of the loveliest days of the year so far in the big M.
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Words: James Balmont