Gallops, Manchester Roadhouse - Tuesday 7 September 2010
Manchester, you big old breezy place - lovely to be back. Now, where is your Roadhouse venue? I used to negotiate Manchester via Hulme towerblock landmarks, crumbling Victorian warehouses and straggles of indie kids avoiding muggings.
But you're unrecognisable, these days. You're new, wide, impressive, spacious. I haven't got a clue where I am. And I used to come here regular, like, in my Joe Bloggs parallels, hanging round Afflecks, really - and I mean really - irritating the hell out of the fashionistas at Eastern Bloc by asking them about Cud 12"s.
Some of the new apartments here look like spaceships. Spaceships that have landed on top of cultural Meccas like the Haçienda, crushing them well below the bankruptcies that shut them down in the first place. So it's not all good 'new'.
Thankfully The Roadhouse still exists. How many great bands first learnt their licks here and at the Boardwalk a stone(rose)'s throw away? Hundreds, easily. Both venues must be looking nervously above their head expecting the shadow of an imminent block of luxury apartments. But they survive for now.
I'm here to see Gallops.
"Are you, Adam? Again? Seriously? Isn't there someone else you should be checking out or reviewing for us?"
Well, it's been a quiet, flat summer, gig-wise. The preponderance of festivals and the economic u-bend the venue industry has got itself stuck in hasn't helped. And maybe - after six months of 50 gigs a week - I discovered the middle age delights of crap TV and Ben and Jerry's. But I'm back on the road tonight. And I'm here to see Gallops again because they fascinate me and they have - deservedly - found the crest of their (first) wave.
Their début EP came out a couple of weeks ago. That in itself could suck a thousand words of dribble and chaff out of my keyboard. Suffice to say that it's new shapes. NEW SHAPES, people! How ace is it to have NEW SHAPES? It's available on Holy Roar now.
Pesky band had told us they'd be on at nine. Driving like Clarkson up the M56, we get to the Roadhouse with five minutes to spare.
"We're on at 10 now," says a rather knackered-looking drummer Moz.
See, this is the second date of their first national headline tour. And Moz is already shagged out. He's contemplating a couple of cans of Red Bull before they go on to shake the torpor from his limbs. Apparently the fire alarm at their hotel in Sheffield the night before went off twice.
"I feel a right old git," he says, or words to that effect, perhaps unaware that this is like a panda complaining to a grain of sand about the difficulties of finding your own space and asserting your individuality.
When we walk in there are three people in the venue, and I think they work there or are driving Gallops. My heart does a little whimper for the band. It's an international football night. It's a Tuesday. None of the student population these venues survive on are back, yet. The Roadhouse has all the allure of an S&M solitary confinement cell.
But the staff are good and friendly, and toilet circuit venues have rightly evolved this way so as not to detract from the music. More accurately because investing in neon lights in the floor, or poncey pictures on the wall, would mean that the petrol money for the next month's worth of bands wouldn't get covered. So, a backhanded salute to the Roadhouse. Gentrify these places and a whole dependent ecosystem of new bands wither on the vine. For evidence to support this hypothesis, see what happens in Cardiff now the Barfly has shut down.
While I'm pondering this and mulling it over with my mate, people start arriving in dribs and drabs. By the time we extricate ourselves from our conversation and look up there is an incredibly healthy crowd here. Fifty-ish people, for a band on their début release, in a foreign city. This is a great turnout. My mate (Andy) says: "Just goes to show how important BBC Introducing getting them on at Reading and Leeds can be."
Gallops, you see, headlined the Introducing Stage at Reading and Leeds. They were on telly and everything. And they sounded great.
A familiar rumble of laptop and the thunderous sound of Moz beating seven tonnes of holy hell out of his drums announces the band.
I will now attempt to switch my hyperbole filter ON.
So, I'm used to getting hammered over the head by Gallops, getting physically assaulted by their power. Power is a massive part of their armoury. And this leprechaun PA isn't up to it. At least, that's my first impression. As the set progresses I find myself hearing things - oh, the cleverest things. I can make out all the lines weaving in and out of each other with a beauty and complexity that could fry my meagre brain if those lines didn't - on the verge of becoming too clever for their own good - crumble into a simple but brilliantly effective melody or riff.
That's as close as I'll get to summing up the Gallops live experience. Some people call this math rock because, I assume, math rock infers a systematic rigidity, a stark predictable clarity. But Gallops are none of those things. They are shape rock. Or fractal rock. Like spirographs of sound, but without getting drawing pins stuck in your kneecaps. Sure, the sequences of notes have some algebraic quality to them; whatever happens to Mark's guitar or synth stage left has to be mirrored stage right by Brad balancing the equation, not necessarily simultaneously.
You know those visualisers that Windows Media Player and iTunes have built in for stoners? Well, Gallops are like an aural representation of the best, most mind-blowing, graphical flourishes from those. Unexpected bursts, great beauty from complexity that seems beyond comprehension, but manages to resolve itself into a breathtaking whole.
They most frequently get compared to Battles. Yawn. Might as well compare a rose to a rhododendron, or a band who had a tendency to get lost in their own bluster to a band who absolutely delight in embroidering their succinct music with as many ideas, twists and turns as is humanely possible.. It's why - as a thoroughly instrumental band, who'd obviously prefer not to have to talk to the audience at all - they captivate that audience. Boredom has never been so lacking. All necessary communication is via the surges and shallows in the music, and in the way that music contorts the bodies and faces of those performing it.
And there are far more shades to these shapes than I'd heard before. Loud, very loud, gentle, a whisper, supernova. And these kids - brought up, partially, on the oh-so-predictable four-to-the-floor pound of the dance music bass drum, reject that conformity in favour of proggish, or jazz-inspired - time changes that surprise and amaze. BUT they're not clever for clever's sake. It's not Weather Report.
I'm all written out.
I think you'd be much better off checking them out yourselves, in all honesty. Briefly and to conclude, it's music that won't reduce itself to easy description. And it isn't shape rock, after all - it's shapes rock, and there are millions of them.