Sky Valley Mistress, The Volts, Cassette & Canter Semper @ Night & Day Cafe
"I am no messenger, but I will give you a message, a message...of death!" - The Darkness, Nothin's Gonna Stop Us
It’s Saturday night and Sky Valley Mistress have invited us down to their show at the Night and Day café in the swanky Northern Quarter. It’d be rude not to...
I’m only here for Sky Valley Mistress. I’ve been so busy of late I’d not even had chance to check out the support acts, which makes tonight, in that respect and more, a fantastic and unpredictable surprise.
In one word, Chorlton based acoustic trio Canter Semper are lovely. Despite people treating their set more as background music than anything else, their luscious vocal harmonies, tranquil piano and elegant, genteel violin work creates a mellow, happy atmosphere. Considering the more abrasive rock n’ roll that was to follow, you’d expect their heartfelt balladry to feel out of place and too pansy, but in fact it was the perfect opening that touched everyone who cared to look up from their tables and pay attention.
Even if this band is simply a vehicle for Adam Dale's excellent frontmanship - velvet vocals and sharp lyrics - then Cassette have something for folk to gleefully latch onto. Bright and often bouncy, jaunty rhythms, with stickman Maxim Shkenev providing some fantastic disco beats on the kit, they act as the foundation atop which Dale shines. With the heart of Stephen Brodsky and the deliverance of Josh Homme, his vocals are a constant stream of twisting words, never stopping to breathe. That can be a little too overbearing at points; vocal and musical passages are very much separate entities which these songs flit between. But when they get it right, their music, is, as Eric Clapton would say, wonderful tonight.
Widnes/Warrinton four piece The Volts, who pen songs inspired by everyone from Queen and Metallica to Royal Blood and James Brown, come armed with friends and fans. It only takes a few beats for Zakk de la Roche doppelganger frontman Rory Hope to draw the crowd closer towards the stage. It makes for a cosy affair, so it’s a shame that the first song is stinted by technical issues. The drums are painfully loud and Chris Smith’s Les Paul decides not to work at all. He swaps it for a Telecaster – “he thinks he’s Bruce Springsteen,” jokes one audience member – and they warm into their set with aplomb.
For this writer, their pop rock sound is a little bit middle of the road, with no blatant unique selling point, be that killer vocals, raucous guitar work or otherwise, but the crowd are right behind them, which includes our photographer, Anthony. Their music is straight forward and to the point, and it works wonders for most people here, I’m just not overly keen myself.
While it may not particularly be the band's fault, it does seem incredibly rude that The Volts' fan contingent disappears after the band's set, failing to stick around for the headliners. Support all unsigned music people, not just your mates.
I've seen Sky Valley Mistress so many times over the years, more than any other band infact – they’ve peaked Motorhead in that respect which is an achievement in itself considering how many bloody gigs I go to each year. And so you'd think I'd have run out of words for them by now. Hell, I've thrown the Dictionary are these four Darwen rock n’ rollers who call Manchester their unofficial home city. Yet they continue to surprise and impress me, they continue to grow and expand in a way that never fails to enthral.
Tonight at the Night & Day the benefits of their road dog mentality are clear to see; they’re tighter than a duck's arse yet unshackled and free-wheeling all the same. This may just be the best performance I've ever seen them unleash. It's terrifying just how forceful a live act they are. Maxwell is tonight possessed by the wild child spirit of John Bonham, he’s the beating sheer heart attack, the screaming pulse to the opening one-two or The Lion and Smoke Fairy. They are simply sensational, all gruff, stoner riffs built on top of a bed of jagged, sinister blues shuffles and quilted by Kayley Louise's hellion falsetto. The way they merge the two songs together with a complete lack of mercy is staggering. In the final throes of the latter she lets out a staggering ten second plus scream; the power and beauty behind it unrivalled.
It all comes across so extravagantly loose, so rabid. I never saw Led Zeppelin back in the day – I wasn’t alive – but I imagine that this is what it was like, the fact they blend Kyuss and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aesthetics into the mix, dousing it in the pungency of the SVM sound makes it even better.
I know this is coming off all superlatives and brown-nosing, but when you’ve seen a band this many times but still come away breathless, with the adrenaline pumping, you can’t help but wax lyrical.
They debut new songs tonight as well. With snaking grooves, vocals dripping in a deadly nightshade and schizophrenic dynamic shifts, their sultry blues and oily stonerisms continue to evolve in a way which really baffles you: How the fuck are this band not massive?
Get your arse to one of their shows – it won’t be hard, the buggers never stop touring – and see what I’m banging on about first hand.
You’ll thank me later.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin