Search The Line of Best Fit
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BBC 6 Music Festival – Victoria Warehouse, Manchester – 01/03/14

13 March 2014, 17:36 | Written by Joe Goggins

I couldn’t make it out to Stretford for day one of the inaugural BBC 6Music festival, which also doubled as a gathering of the region’s quickest eight thousand credit card detail enterers. The lineup for the opening day provided plenty of opportunity for me to be philosophical about my absence, though, with the disappointment of missing Midlake and Kelis more than offset by my good fortune in being able to swerve self-appointed ‘festival favourites’ (who’s?) Haim and, in the headlining slot, Damon Albarn.

If there’s one thing we do really bloody well in Manchester, it’s old, crumbling warehouses. There’s a genuine romance to a lot of them; take it from an actual local, rather than a comically egotistical controversy stirrer and occasional singer who’s lived in Rome for the past twenty-odd years. The Victoria Warehouse was converted into a state-of-the-art, multi-room music venue a couple of years back, with the aim of relieving the city centre of the sort of badly-dressed sort that tends to frequent the Warehouse Project, the ‘superclub’/failed social experiment that is now the building’s main tenant.


PINS cut their proverbial teeth across town in the Northern Quarter, an area with no dearth of places like this. It’s fitting, then, that they open the second stage in typically furious fashion; their strangely subdued debut record, Girls Like Us, is an entirely different proposition on stage. There’s maybe ten songs on the setlist, but they’re all ticked off in a little over twenty minutes – they play so fast, and with such delicious aggression. They’re off to South by South West, and with a live show as thrillingly noisy as this, they’re bound to make a serious impression, on Texan eardrums if nothing else.

Early evening on stage number two saw Lykke Li return to the city for the first time since Halloween 2011, a show that had been delayed by six months because she fell over in Marks and Spencer and slipped a disc in her back the night before the original date. Her fabulous second LP, Wounded Rhymes, burned with a wonderfully dramatic energy, and secured her place as my second favourite Swede in history, after Henrik Larsson. Her ferociously quick-fire show tonight – late start, early finish – has her fizzing through choice cuts from her last record – opener “Jerome”, “I Follow Rivers”, and the sublime “Get Some” all present and correct. There’s time, too, for some promising previews of the forthcoming I Never Learn; “Never Gonna Love Again” provides some low-key, lovelorn beauty, and there’s a real eighties, throwback groove to closer “Gunshot.” Lykke herself is a enthrallingly theatrical performer; I rather suspect that this is what watching Beyoncé must feel like to normal people, except without absolutely everything she does having a brand name attached to it, or any weird, sycophantic dribble about her being “queen”.

Wild Beasts are due next on the same stage; when I saw them playing across town towards the end of their touring for Two Dancers, singer Hayden Thorpe delivered a rousing speech in defense of 6 Music, which at the time was being threatened with closure by the unfathomably joyless powers that be at the BBC. Today’s festival, thankfully, sees the station in similarly rude health as Kendal’s finest themselves, who likely still haven’t come down form the ultimate critical double header – a perfect Best Fit ten for Present Tense, and a chat with yours truly.

All of that’s moot, though, because I didn’t manage to catch any of the band’s performance; this seems like as good a place as any to air my two major grievances with the festival. Firstly, the organisers didn’t stagger the stage times, meaning clashes were impossible to circumvent. The other problem was that the second stage – or ‘Room 2’ – was desperately ill-equipped to cope with an event of this type. The stage was practically on the floor, meaning that perhaps the two hundred or so people front and centre would have been afforded a decent view. Everybody else got to stare at either a backdrop of twinkling lights or the back of somebody else’s head.

Franz Ferdinand

With the above in mind, I opted for Franz Ferdinand’s main stage slot, my first encounter with the Glaswegians in just shy of five years. The last time I caught them live, they were out in support of the criminally-underrated Tonight: Franz Ferdinand; today, they’re plugging the gloriously-titled Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, and their amps are labelled accordingly. They set about reminding the crowd why their first two records were enough to propel them to the top of the Reading bill once upon a time, with a blistering early salvo of classic material; the terrific “The Dark of the Matinée” was their debut’s cornerstone, whilst “Michael” and “Do You Want To” have savage riffery and irresistible hooks covered, respectively.

There’s unquestionably a lull around the midpoint, though – “The Fallen” and “Walk Away” don’t really sit comfortably alongside new cuts “Fresh Strawberries” and “Stand on the Horizon”, and a reworked version of “Lucid Dreams” falls flat. If only they had a hit single of monumental proportions to win the gathered back over, eh? “Take Me Out” continues to crackle with the same vigour as it carried back in 2003, although closer “Ulysses”, easily their most underappreciated track, is no slouch either. It’s a sprightly turn, all told, although there’s clearly plenty of room for certain screws to be tightened.

And then, there’s The National. They’re headlining, which is absolutely right and proper when you consider that, going off the form book, they are without question the greatest indie rock band currently in function. None of their peers come anything like close to a run of records as spectacularly consistent in terms of gorgeousness and poise as Alligator, Boxer, High Violet and last year’s Trouble Will Find Me. Some think The National are boring, but it’s important to remember that those people are sorely mistaken, and likely don’t have a predilection for anything that puts the ‘b’ in subtle; they probably gave up on Mad Men because “nothing happens”, and secretly appreciate Be Here Now and the films of Michael Bay.

I’m not entirely sure where you start with a band so wholly exquisite; I become more and more convinced by the day that Trouble Will Find Me might well be their magnum opus, so it’s just as well that it dominates tonight’s ninety-minute set. “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and “I Should Live in Salt” both shimmer with the special type of beauty that Matt Berninger so ably fashions out of his own angst, and the expanded seven-piece live band do stirring justice to both the melancholy side of the album – “This Is the Last Time”, the divine “I Need My Girl” – and their more aggressive counterpoints, like “Graceless”, or the slow-burn to cacophony on “Sea of Love”.

I could go on forever here; about how the achingly wistful “Pink Rabbits” represents one of Berninger’s finest lyrical achievements, or the arresting resignation of “Apartment Story” – “tired and wired, we ruin too easy” – but instead, I should focus on what makes The National such a stellar live act. They’re pictures of restraint on record, with that quiet confidence that’s permeated everything post-Sad Songs as close as they get to the spectacular, but on stage, they’re a different proposition entirely.

The explosive climax to “Squalor Victoria”, the shredding of Berninger’s larynx on “Abel”, his now-customary journey into the crowd during “Mr. November”; they’re all signifiers of the manner in which the walls well and truly come down during The National’s live shows. They present different, but equally accomplished, versions of themselves both on stage and in the studio; when Berninger forgoes his microphone for the acoustic closer, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, there’s nothing arrogant about it; only recognition of the audience’s devotion. It might have been the BBC’s logo over the door, there might have been plenty of other names on the lineup, but this, perhaps inevitably, was The National’s night – no, The National’s weekend.

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