The Ritz is already full for the second support act. Local heroes The Dutch Uncles are probably too popular and definitely too good to be supporting anybody in a venue this size in their hometown. However they make a perfect accompaniment to Everything Everything - so let's not be churlish at getting to see two great Manchester bands in their prime on the same bill. Like Delphic and Egyptian Hip Hop, the Dutch Uncles are from the leafy Stockport suburb of Marple. At first you might think an unlikely setting for a mini-music scene of intelligent progressive guitar bands. But on second thoughts the suburbs have always had the best bands and where better than here on Manchester's doorstep? There is a warm reaction from the crowd; there is even a group of revellers holding aloft the Tricolour of the Netherlands with the band's name scrawled across it. Being set up as support act, Frontman Duncan Wallis has to be content with just the front half of the stage when he breaks from his keyboard and xylophone for some if his trade mark quirky dancing. This is the second of two sell out nights at The Ritz. "Anybody here who was here last night?" asks Duncan, "This one's for you, the guys with the flag and Marc Riley (Lard has been a longtime supporter of the band) before launching into ‘Face In’ the only song they still play live from their 2009 self-titled debut album released on German label, Tapete Records. "You've got a bouncy dance floor, use it" appeals Duncan. The atmosphere has built up nicely as the Dutch Uncles set comes to a climax, Pete Broadhead breaks from the xylophone during Fester to put his mallets above his head and beat them together in a clapping moment. The Dutch Uncles have the crowd in their hands - not the type of adulation you normally associate with a support act, and it's not even 8 o'clock yet! It's a shame it has been so short a set. Duncan extends an invitation before leaving the crowd wanting more; "If you enjoyed us and you'd like to see us again we are playing our new album with a string quartet on 6th December at Manchester Academy" The set comes to a thunderous end with the frenetic ‘Dressage’.
A top performance from The Dutch Uncles who by all accounts enjoyed both nights in front of a home crowd. They posted a bizarre photo on their twitter feed of Marc Riley holding a ventriloquists' dummy that had more that a passing to Mick Hucknall with the caption "This evening summed up". The NME put the Dutch Uncles third album ‘Out Of Touch In The Wild’ in their list of albums that should make the Mercury Prize short list (before it was publish) and I agree it certainly holds up favourably in my eyes against the albums on the list.
How do you follow that? The bar is set high for headliners Everything Everthing, who were nominated themselves for the Mercury Music Prize with their debut album ‘Man Alive’. Although their follow up ‘Arc’, released in January, did not receive that particular accolade, for my money it is a more rounded record. Played together it is hard to remember which tracks are from ‘Arc’, tracks like ‘Cough Cough’, ‘Duet’ and ‘Kemosabe’ already feel like familiar old favourites. ‘Undrowned’, also from ‘Arc’, is the opener tonight and as it slowly builds we are treated to our first glimpse of Jonathan Higgs remarkable vocal talent. It is simply immense to witness his falsetto tones first hand. Here is the proof that the human voice can be but the most remarkable and expressive instrument. Higgs hits the most challenging of notes with both passion and precision. Maybe he isn't a super human after all as twenty hours later they pull out of their Liverpool gig. Throughout the show we are part of a multi-coloured search light show beaming out across the dancehall which adds to the feeling you are an integral part of the show.
"We'd like to thank the Dutch Uncles, who we f***ing love" exclaims Higgs beaming ear to ear. Unlike their superb undercard act, Everything Everything are not born and bred local lads but a group who formed in Manchester being drawn in by the city's musical heritage and thriving live scene. Jonathan Higgs met bass player Jeremy Pritchard when they were studying music together at Salford University. Drummer Michael Spearman and former guitarist Alex Niven where school friends of Higgs from Hexham in Northumberland. Niven was replaced by another Alex, Robertshaw during the recording of Man Alive. Higgs claims that fate played a big part in Robertshaw's recruitment to the band as a misprint in the NME took them to the wrong gig where they discovered him playing with London based band Operahouse (the phoenix of which morphed into the excellent Tribes after the band split). His performance blew them away and when Niven left the band to pursue a career as a writer, Robertshaw was an obvious choice.
The point is that Everything Everything have chosen Manchester as their home and this homecoming gig is about celebrating with the people and in the places where it all came together. Higgs tells us he was living just over there, vaguely pointing to the back of the hall, when he watched the rioting in August 2011 taking place just around the corner on the streets of Manchester and Salford. This inspired the song ‘No Plan’ from the deluxe edition of ‘Arc’. "What makes you think that this is not your problem, when there's a zero on the fat horizon, why the city, is it for the taking?" You feel the chorus wailing "Cos we got no plan" could be equally applied to the rioters, the government and society in general. Higgs changes the opening lines of the Ivor Novello nominated song ‘MY KZ YR BF’ (that's My Keys Your Boyfriend if you are not part of Generation Text), about a love triangle being discovering amidst an apocalyptic scene. 'Lucifer's on the landing' becomes 'Manchester I Love You' and tonight Manchester is showing that love back.
The rest of the band take a break for a haunting solo of ‘Tin’ (The Manhole), Jonathon stands alone at the front of the stage performing in silhouette with the stage lit red behind him. The set comes to a thunderous climax with’ Suffragette Suffragette’, ‘Photoshop Handsome’ and ‘Don't Try’, the latter was the fourth single released from Arc, already feeling like a classic. Returning for an encore the band play ‘Radiant’ and ‘Cough Cough’ from Arc and ‘Weights’ from Man Alive, I'm surprised they didn't finish with ‘Cough Cough’ but tonight there are no complaints. Three stella performances and an electric atmosphere.
Some sympathy for fans in Liverpool who missed out twenty four hours later but look on the bright side you got to see the mighty Dutch Uncles for nowt and you've got the re-arranged gig on Thursday 5th December to look forward too.
Review & Photos by Paul Holloway
Paul Holloway presents The Guest List (Wednesdays 7pm) on Stockport’s radio station Pure 107.8FM. Listen anywhere www.pureradio.org.uk
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