This gig last Sunday was a culmination of nearly a year at Looprevil Radio. I first listened to Speedy Ortiz and Joanna Gruesome pretty close to each other, just before they went on to release their excellent debuts Major Arcana and Weird Sister respectively. Both great bands with great ethics and when it looked like the two would be playing together in February, buying a ticket was a no brainer.
Manchester is still pretty alien to me but eventually we navigated away through the never ending streets to get to the Deaf Institute. If like me, you'd heard of the venue but never been, you might expect it to hold about a thousand people but it's a much smaller venue than that. It's practically a pub that's been rolled on top of itself with two floors offering a open mic and the gig we were here for. It barely holds more than about 100 people upstairs but from its wallpaper that wouldn't look amiss in your Gran's house to the old school cinema benches at the back, it's a unique place to be at.
After the obligatory visit to the merch stand, Joanna Gruesome got things going without any hesitation by going straight into Secret Surprise, which deserved much more than the luke warm audience that'd be a problem throughout the night. They then went on to rip through the best of Weird Sister and we were more than happy for Speedy Ortiz to bully the Cardiff via Brighton band into playing Wussy Void live for the first time ever. What won us over with Joanna Gruesome was their humbleness. It's a quality that is usually seen in these sorts of up and coming bands but it was just nice to see that they were genuinely happy to have the opportunity to play. Things could be a little shaky at times which might have been down to their young age, nerves, the bloke on the mixing desk or a bit of all three but throughout Joanna Gruesome proved just how much promise they have to do bigger and greater things and I'm sure the extensive touring of the last few months which included not only supporting Speedy Ortiz but Stephen Malkamus & The Jicks and Los Campesinos! will only help them develop their live sound in the future. We weren't sure if lead vocalist Lan McArdle was a bit frustrated from the set or just really needed a fag when she disappeared midway through the last song, but we hope they weren't too hard on themselves because they're heading onwards and upwards. Just bring some more t-shirts for the merch stand next time they're up north.
A short break soundtracked by Parquet Courts, Mac DeMarco and more on the pub speakers followed and before long Speedy Ortiz took to the stage for their headline set and first gig in Manchester. They did not disappoint, being everything we thought they'd be and more. Things started off a bit slow but once they got going they were nailing song after song in a set that displayed the impressive discography they've built up in two years, playing cuts from this month's Real Hair EP as well as cuts from Major Arcana, Sports and even earlier favourites like Taylor Swift. It's only seeing them live that you realize how tight of a unit they are. If you weren't paying attention you'd assume that all of the fuzzy, grungy guitar playing is mainly power chords at work and while that's there it's only watching lead vocalist and guitarist Sadie Dupuis properly that you notice how intricate and talented she and the rest of the band are with complicated chord structures and riffs abound that all come together in a real nice sounding way. Especially with their newer material you can tell that if they have another big album like Major Arcana was they have the potential to be huge. 40 minutes later and with Indoor Soccer the set wraps up, despite the crowd finally beginning to wake up and hanging around for a encore that didn't come, with both bands heading straight back to the merch stand. That's another cool things about supporting and seeing bands like this, they don't have the resources for tons of roadies and extra staff to sell merch so it's all done direct. More so than any other group of bands I've seen for a while there was a real feeling of solidarity between the two as well, with Speedy Ortiz watching over Joanna Gruesome's set and generally acting like the big sibling in this little touring family.
If there was any real issue in this gig it was the crowd, who maybe were just too hungover by Sunday night but never really got going. I fall on the more wimpy side of crowd members but I still like a good amount of bopping if I'm enjoying a gig but this crowd were just too sedate. I wasn't asking for a big moshpit or anything but some barely even moved for both sets, with Speedy Ortiz even commenting on how 'polite' the crowd was compared to their gig the night before in Glasgow. I've heard much worse sound set ups but the bloke at the mixer didn't do himself any favours either by having a tendency to drown out vocals, evident by the hand gestures made towards him on stage. Still, it didn't detract too much from what was a great night watching two bands who deserve your attention for at least the next few years.
Real Hair and Weird Sister are out now on Carpark Records and Fortuna Pop! Records respectively.