The River Versus and Bauer support The Rainband @ Manchester Academy 2
I’ve reviewed The River Versus before. To be exact, I reviewed the release party for their single Gallows back in March 2015 and it was the first thing I ever wrote for beloved Manchester Rocks. This likely being the last thing I ever write on their behalf, it’s a fittingly cyclical way to bring my Manchester Rocks voyage to a close.
For me, The River Versus embody what’s so endearing about the music scene in Manchester. They excel at all the things that make the Manchester environment so vibrant and unique. They’re creative in the sense that they come up with concepts so genius, which make so much musical sense that you wish you could have come up with them yourself (i.e. a prog medley of LOTR themes, a ska cover of Whitney Houston, I could go on). They don’t take themselves too seriously, executing all their performances with impressive focus but also a genuine sense of fun and enjoyment. They are playful with genres and intelligent in making reference to all types of music. And finally, they write truly, simply, brilliant songs.
I think my first live review of The River Versus went something like this: “exceptional; distinctive; irresistibly likeable; effortless arrangements; delightful”, finished off with, “THERE ARE TRUMPETS!”
Happily, after 14 months not a lot has changed but everything is improved. The arrangements are tighter and there’s more confidence in the performance. Alec Davis’ keyboard work is more fluent and dazzling, the trios’ voices are stronger and in the great acoustics of Academy 2, every word is audible. Their music has a spectacularly commanding presence.
Bauer was next, another Manchester band that have been around for a bit longer than TRV, with a huge local following. Their sound is synthpop with a Northwest indie twist and a touch of U2’s melodic guitar vibe. It’s a warm, inoffensive style with an 80s dance beat. The band by this time had drawn a crowd, Mums (with their reluctant tweenage daughters in tow) bopping happily along.
We had to question the thought process behind billing TRV before the ensuing two bands, when the bands’ appeal is so dramatically different. Not to detract anything from the individual acts – they all gave maximum energy to their performances and were top notch in their own rights – but putting on a gloriously rich proggy band like TRV as support for a synthpop outfit and then an indiepop one made for a strange line-up to say the least. I headed to the gig as a TRV fan and it would have been great to discover some other similar bands headlining. I can’t help but think each of the bands would have benefited more from the crowd if the line-up had had more of a natural flow.
Hey ho, on to the last group and headliner, The Rainband. They’re signed and have been touring recently, leaving this gig til last as their homecoming. Started in 2010 they have received glowing endorsements across the board from journalists and fellow artists.
Their high-energy performance was polished to a glassy veneer shine, song after song following a familiar indie-ballad type format that could only have been born in Greater Manchester. It’s a format that gets lots of people very excited.
One particular song, She’s A Rainbow, is memorable but perhaps for the wrong reasons. It’s the best example to demonstrate how The Rainband’s music seems to be written very much with the listener in mind; the songs expressing what they think we want to hear – She’s A Rainbow getting the ‘upbeat love song’ box ticked. The Rainband are accompanied by the most fancy production of the evening, with the music video for the song projected on the stage display.
The Rainband have certainly nailed their aim and it works for many people. They have an eager fanbase who turned out in force to support this hometown gig. However, it didn’t work for me on this occasion. I was still in the land of The River Versus and I wasn’t ready to leave just yet. Bravo, The River Versus, for stealing the show within the first half an hour. They were by far the best act of the night – the most courageous and the most heartfelt.