First band on stage are Sky Larkin, a Leeds-based foursome with some fiendishly good guitar going on. I’m effortlessly pulled into their frenzy and this punchy set left me eager to know/hear more. I was a little surprised they had three albums under their belt as they seemed so carefree and youthful but then, the best bands never lose that sense of adventure and freshness, that feeling that they’re doing this because they love it and dollar signs and celebrity have no part in it. They were a refreshing experience on a Saturday night when it sometimes feels like half the nation are either queuing up to perform on “talent” shoes or glued to their sofas/TV screens watching the ueue. A punk sensibility sizzled in some of these tracks and when they let rip, it an intoxicating wall of sound began to manifest. Sky Larkin’s new record is called Motto, and though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what their motto is, it feels like one worth believing in.
Marnie Stern, who steps up next is surprisingly little known in this country. I certainly hadn’t heard of her before tonight’s fired up performance, though this is actually her fourth visit to Manchester and she’s been active since 2007. Perhaps her star has been rising slowly but steadily, as at this year’s SXSW she was billed as a highlight and has even recently graced the cover of the Guardian newspaper. This talented lady is happily doing her own thing and her sound is extraordinary. Much has been made of her impressive technique of guitar-playing, lots of tapping and generally fancy fret-work is carried out with a graceful ease.
Marnie has a charming demeanour and the audience quickly warm to her. Much of the set showcased her quirky new album 'The Chronicles of Marnia' but older material was hanging in between. For me, there were two stand-out tracks tonight, both from the new record. 'Nothing is Easy' works up a sweat, it soldiers through non-specific hardship and trials with a gusto that refuses to bow down. The drumming is perhaps just as startling as the complicated guitar-work, with rhythmic avalanches merging spectacularly with Stern’s defiant guitar and impassioned vocal. The other track that really makes an impression is 'Immortals Don’t Die' which she and the band tear through at such break-neck speed you barely catch your breath. It all feels slightly insane but in a positive way, as though the madness is a necessary release and it’s time to let it all hang out, to break free from the shackles of normality and correct procedure. Whatever lies on the other side of that wardrobe in her chronicles must be explored and this is what Marnie Stern feels to be doing. She’s not afraid and she’s conjuring up some unique sounds on her unchartered journey. Go, Marnie!
Review by Mary O'Meara