When I was a student I used to head off to Peter Street in Manchester on a regular basis for gigs. In those days the venue was the Free Trade Hall and there I saw a wide range of artists ranging from Queen to Blondie, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Television and the Boomtown Rats to - ahem - Bob Seger. Some great memories, sadly the venerable old venue now lives on as a swanky hotel.
Last night I returned to Peter Street, this time to the Albert Hall, just across the road, a former Grade 2 methodist chapel now being lovingly restored by the people behind local bar Trof. It features a fantastic horseshoe-shaped hall complete with organ pipes, upper circle, and high ceilings on the first floor, which makes for a splendid venue in which to hold concerts. And downstairs, I was delighted to discover that on the bar they were selling Marble Manchester Bitter!
If you missed reading the title the reason for my visit was to see American indie band The War on Drugs. I saw them about 3 years ago, not far away at Sound Control, where I came away slightly disappointed. The venue didn't seem to work, visibility was poor and the sound quality was muffled and didn't do justice to the excellent album they were promoting, 'Slave Ambient'.
So, roll on to 2015. Last year their album 'Lost in the Dream' was very well received by critics and music lovers alike and succeeded in attracting a wider audience to their melodic, spacey, widescreen sound. So the Albert Hall was virtually full last night for the first of a two night stint, the audience featuring an eclectic mix of people of all ages.
The band opened with Track 1 from 'Lost in the Dream', 'Under Pressure' which was an excellent start to proceedings and enabled Adam Granduciel to display his soaring and intricate guitar work which features lots of feedback and reverb. From there on in we got a succession of their best songs including 'Red Eyes', 'Lost in the Dream', 'Baby Missiles' and 'In Reverse'. The rest of the band - comprising rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards, sax, and drums - were far more than mere bit players to Granduciel's excellent guitar. My favourite track of the night was 'An Ocean in Between the Waves', a slow-starting tour-de-force which even got my old legs dancing. In parts reflective and dreamy, this track builds up and up, and brilliantly demonstrates that their music can rock with the best.
They played for just over an hour and a half, and left to rapturous applause. I would be very surprised if many of the audience didn't thoroughly enjoy the gig as much as I did. The Albert Hall is a great venue, with superb acoustics, and played a significant part in making the gig work as well as it did.
I headed next door to the Brewdog bar, glancing across to the old Free Trade Hall. Sadly it no longer plays a part in Manchester's music scene, but its new neighbour had just managed to play host to a great gig in the tradition of those I'd seen all those years ago in the old place....