Nestled in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Castle Hotel, a relic of 18th century drinking, has now become a regenerated hangout for followers of live music and fans of its now legendary jukebox.
Into its cosy backroom, you find Northern Noise putting on monthly nights featuring some of the most highly tipped new acts - Coves, Towns and Torches being amongst their most recent headliners. Tonight is no exception in terms of quality with Manchester’s City Reign playing their single launch to a home crowd with support from Bristolian buzz-band Idles.
The night starts off with locals I See Angels, who, in a brave move for an opening act, use their slot to road test material for their forthcoming second album. Singer Paul Baird has a distinctive reverb-soaked falsetto vocal which, when coupled with their Interpol-esque grooves, makes for a hypnotic performance.
Next it is Idles' turn. Their suits are sharp. Their sound is even sharper and a powder keg of Gang of Four, The Strokes and Joy Division explode in a dangerously dark ‘n’ danceable fashion. The most exciting aspect of their live show is the trade-off of pulsating guitars combined with a highly kinetic physical delivery from each and every band member. On ‘Thieves’, singer Joe Talbot commands the crowd to follow suit and “Shimmy to the left/Shimmy to the right/ Shake it to the left/Shake me to the right.” The band find their most intense moment on ‘Two Tone’, which is the juxtaposition of surrealist word piece “colourful images” (think Mark E. Smith at his most caustic) with a barrage of pointy guitars, aggressive backing vocals and epileptic lighting: in essence, a garage dancefloor mindfuck.
Rounding off proceedings are Manchester’s City Reign, for whom the night is the most special as the launch of their single ‘Ahead of Ideas’ on home turf. Hot on the heels of successfully opening Clash Magazine’s Manchester launch party and fresh from recording their debut album ‘Another Step’, they show why they’re fast-becoming one of the best young bands to follow. City Reign’s influences are largely different from the other hoards of new guitar bands playing the same circuit - R.E.M., The National, Ryan Adams, Doves and Idlewild - and are more interesting for it. Singer Chris Bull’s vocals are warm, earthy and emotive and will go a long way to filling the Roddy Woomble shaped gap in your heart.
The band play in two dynamics: indie pop-rock and epic balladry. For example, opener ‘See What It’s Worth’ has a snarling vocal where Bull chastises the suits who “get up every morning and work hard for the things you don’t love”. Its guitars are about as hectic and frenzied as meeting a 9am deadline dosed up on eight shots of expresso. The single ‘Ahead of Ideas’ is conversely a brooding but epic affair, with sweeping, layered guitar and uplifting lyrics to boot, building to a frenetically-charged musical chaos under which Bull concludes "I think I found was looking for," after five minutes of self-contemplation. Guitarist Michael Grice quips that the song got to number one thousand in the charts, in one of many humorous exchanges his band make during the evening.
Their final number ‘Making Plans’ has the drive of a Blondie song (think the riff of ‘One Way or Another’) which bursts into a catchy chorus of “I’m only making plans/Not following everything through”, teamed with breezy and playful backing vocals. It’s not a million miles away from listening to Ash on a summer’s day with the windows rolled down as you take to the motorway. Watching the band play it live has a visceral and exciting quality, with singer Bull and guitarist Grice recalling the sexy mic-sharing antics of Pete ‘n’ Carl with the sweat leaking through their shirts.
City Reign try to end the show on this high, but are called back for what they describe as their "first genuine encore." If tonight’s performance is anything to go by, then it will by no means be their last.
Words by Alexia Kapranos
Photos by James George