Wolf Company, Renegade & Retrospect, The River Versus @ Retro Bar
It all gets a bit McFly down front as Wolf Company unveil Truck, a winding and complex composition in a slew of tracks that tonight show themselves unto the world. Screaming teenage girls bounce up and down, camera phones protruding, as if attached indefinitely, from their arms as our photographer Anthony attempts to battle through this sea of oestrogen and excitement. He attempts are predominantly fruitless, limited only to shots of their pouting frontman Mike Jones.
It all comes as something as a surprise, Retro Bar is packed and sweaty as hell as people have come out in droves to witness Wolf Company’s debut performance. Sure, all in attendance may be somewhat attributed to the band through relation or friendship, but regardless there is a real, burgeoning buzz blossoming around the progressive quartet who cram themselves onto the tight confines of Retro’s stage. While you could argue that their set is the least polished on the night, with the gig-hardened support acts showing glimmers of what this band will be able to achieve in due time, there is no doubting this band’s ability as musicians and songwriters.
The barmy, piano-led musings of The River Versus, ever a delightful curveball in a scene amass with distorted guitars and heavy riffs, is the perfect way to warm up the growing crowd. The beautiful and grand brass fanfare that marks the start of their set generates the tone for what’s to follow. The three-piece couldn’t be more inside one another’s pockets, with harmonised vocals interweaving through Alec Davies’ ivory tickling, which sounds equal parts whimsical musical, boogie woogie and salsa sass. Alongside that, Jimmy Trippier’s rumbling bass work locks in tight with Aaron Stanton’s rich, percussive textures to make the bigger picture truly brilliant. Anthony re-appeared from the side of stage – a true prog fanatic – as they marched through the excellent Gallows, a grin beaming on his face. “They’re like a cross between early King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I really like these!” he says, which says it all really. One of our city’s finest and most unique acts, I can’t wax lyrical about these enough.
Referencing the other side of the headliners aesthetic make-up – that is, the harder rock element alongside progressive odysseys – Rengeade & Retrospect bring gritty, guitar driven hard rock with a whiff of 60s/70s hippy hedonism. It works brilliantly. With Pippi Spin in front of the stage, twirling coloured lights and LED hula hoops, you watch their set through a wall of bright, dazzling colour which really broadens the dynamics of their set. I did feel sorry for the poor bugger who tried to carry several pints past her, a petrified look on his face as he dared not collide with her and waste a round which probably cost him an arm and a leg as well break the stares of the transfixed crowd. But otherwise it made for a true spectacle. Of course, their music doesn’t need this sideshow; their bluesy romp is always brilliant on its own accord – a foot-to-the-floor cover of Hendrix’s Fire and a breakout jam messing around with Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker riff highlights. It was a throwback, as Anthony is keen to enthusiastically shout down my ear, to the era from which they draw their main musical inspiration. The spirit of Woodstock resonates within these supremely talented souls. With recording now underway for a brand new EP, expect big things from these guys.
The Wolf Company fan base swarm the stage to witness a show seething in energy and freshness. As a city, Manchester has a shed load of progressive acts, of every variety, and Wolf Company can place themselves right up there with the best of them. They had the crowd in full command, puppeteers to their every moment and reaction as they charged through the songs they’ve lost blood, sweat and tears over in the weeks building up to tonight. Admittedly, the songs were, at points at least, seemingly prog for progs sake – overly complicated for the purpose of pushing themselves as musicians and arguably losing sight of the songs true purpose – but, with some growing time, these songs will cement themselves within your head and heart. They’re very well written, but upon first listening they can be a little overbearing at points.
It’s tough though. First gigs for bands are usually played in front of one bloke (if you’re lucky he’ll bring his dog) in a dingy pub with terrible lighting and a hideous sound. So, before an expectant crowd, the pressure was on and you have to applaud the band’s gall and conviction. They look very much at home here.
From the off they go for the jugular and go for it with menace: Jittering rhythms and winding guitar passages wrapping like ivy around Jones’ often high octave, high octane vocals. Jones introduces every song with a sprinkling of detail which works to both good and ill effect. It makes him sound a bit more like a DJ than an experienced frontman, but considering the context of this show, the introductions are a welcome touch.
Your Stain’s airing is the moment the room has been waiting for. The first and thus far only song to be released from their forthcoming EP, they prove you can play in silly time signatures while still crafting an insanely catchy and memorable song. Here they strike the perfect balance between musical muscle flexing and smart melodicism – the room explodes and you feel here, in this moment, that a promising future lies ahead for this young band. Keep your eyes peeled, you’re watching a beast evolve.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin