Sound Control, Manchester. 16/02/2010
By Chris Oliver
Cold, empty, unfriendly, not at all accomodating…but enough about me – on to my first experience of Sound Control. Unfortunately it’s not a good one, for much the same reasons.
First up, Jo Rose fails to impress. Having seen his gentle, Niel Young-esque performances before, though, I can vouch for how good he usually is. His soft, tender vocals are lost tonight, wilting as he stretches to project to the distant audience. This falls partly at his own feet, having gathered a band and traded his acoustic guitar for an electric. His sound has suffered for it – but not as much as it is suffering at the hands of the sound engineer. The bass and drums dominate, drowning out the subtle touches of the pedal-steel, mandolin and piano, even the guitar. The last straw is a giant, roaring gas burner being lit halfway through the set, putting the final nail in the acoustic coffin.
The venue contributes to the poor sound [if anyone from Sound Control is reading, PLEASE get some heavy curtains round the walls in the upstairs room]. As empty as it is, it’s ill-suited to all but the most penetrative of tones. Right on cue, then, come Blind Atlas, with a more conventional 3-guitar line-up. It’s pretty catatonic stuff, though, apart from one decent, lively number when they introduce a violin (inaudible) and a lead guitar player (good, but excessive). An awful solo song including the lyrics “I had the time of my life, but you’ll never be my wife” is the nadir of a performance whose not-so-lofty zenith is the last song, which sounds like an electric ‘Iron And Wine’.
The challenge of Gabriel Minnikin’s 17-piece mini-orchestra is obviously too much for our sound man. Throughout the set, the double bass feeds back incessantly, rendering the carefully-worked string arrangements pointless. At least this time round we can hear the vocals although Minnikin is ‘blessed’ with the same monotonous drawl as the singer from Blind Atlas. It would normally be great to see something like this – but it’s stuck between the simplicity and drive of a good big band, and the layered, complex tonal richness of an orchestra. As Minnikin sings “I’d rather be any place than here”, I couldn’t agree more.
As I leave, disappointed by a show which in different circumstances could have been warm, novel and horizon-broadening, the fog drifting around the ground floor of Sound Control conjures the words ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ and remind me I don’t want to come back here before summer.