Gig Review: Polytechnic, Salford Islington Mill, July 29, 2006

Islington MillWe’d been very curious about Islington Mill, a new gig venue in Salford, near the Cathedral, a stone’s throw from an estate and supposedly full of artists’ studios, rehersal rooms and recording studios, etc. We thought it must be a flashy new up-and-coming venue. We were not quite prepared for the unfurnished basement dump with wires and pipes everywhere, a dirt and concrete floor, a bar constructed of a couple of tables laden with cases of beer and cheap vodka and mixers and no electricity save the stage lighting, and that includes inside the toilets. Now, I’ve been to some grotty gig venues, and some strange ones. This one may come out top in both those categories. It was weirder than watching from the shore as Big Country performed on a barge on a man-made pond outside a shopping mall in Boston, MA. It was weirder than watching my friend’s decidedly non-Straight Edge band perform at a Straight Edge gig in the basement of a church in Chicago, IL. It was weirder than watching Morrissey perform in what appeared to be a school gym in Chester, or, to be fair, actually watching him perform in a school gym in Waltham, MA. It was grottier than Lupo’s in Providence, RI. Grottier than The Point in Atlanta, GA, grottier than The Roadhouse here in Manchester. It was even grottier than Rock City in Nottingham, which still holds the title of the second worst gig venue in the world (the first being the Liverpool Academy, as described in our Calla review). It was, shall we say, a massive dump. But, it had fairly good acoustics and was atmospheric and not altogether bad as a place to launch a single, as Polytechnic soon proved.

First up, though, was Neil Burrell, on his own with an electric guitar. He was certainly enthusiastic but was trying way too hard to make his guitar and vocals sound like a whole band. He would have sounded better with a full band. As it was, the lurching between weird vocal effects and loud and soft guitars completely distracted from the songs themselves and I spent most of his set thinking “That would sound better with 3 or four other folk on stage.” That really is what I came away with. I believe he’s playing with The Library Trust in a week’s time so maybe I’ll be able to take more in.

The Answering Machine at Islington Mill, July 2006Following that rather odd performance came The Answering Machine, who are rapidly becoming one of my favourite local acts as they sound exactly like I was really hoping The Strokes second album would sound. Considering how much I love the first Strokes album, that’s a pretty good thing. They back it up with a lot of enthusiasm and intensity on stage. And you really don’t even notice that they use a drum machine instead of a drummer, something Mark Riley had been discussing on 6 Music earlier in the day as he gave their set a plug. Sure enough, he was there watching them, alongside John Robb of Goldblade fame.

The Nightjars took the stage next, proving that I was very very mistaken in my criticisms from when they played with Nephew and Being 747 a few months back. In my defense, it had been a long week of burst water tanks, no heat and lots of alcohol. Tonight though I was keen to discover that they actually play some pretty good garage rock, that they’re energetic to watch on stage, and despite my previous pronouncements they don’t look like a bunch of 16-year-olds fronted by their own dad. Sorry Nightjars. We’ll definitely be coming to see you play again soon.

Polytechnic at Islington Mill, July 2006Finally, the main event. Polytechnic took the stage to quite a lot of mania to celebrate the release of “Pep,” their new single out now on Transgressive. Considering the number of gigs they’ve been playing and the fact they’ve been getting some radio play, we figured they had a pretty strong following. We didn’t know quite how strong. They were introduced with a great deal of aplomb by one very drunk man with a hat and a moustache. Another was dancing around madly in front of me near the front and seemed to know half the crowd. A third, a photographer, snapped pictures continuously throughout the gig. Girls danced and swooned, blokes cheered. It was pretty invigorating. As for the band, they play an oddly American-sounding brand of indie pop, reminding me a bit of the Flaming Lips at times. They’d feel right at home on the pages of Pitchfork amidst the reviews of the likes of The Shins, Mercury Rev, Midlake and The New Pornographers. But while the North American influences are there, this is very much a local band, and you can hear the best of what’s coming out of Britain as well in the melodies and arrangements. Spunky, upbeat guitars and keyboards abounded. It was simply a festival of breezy melody and charm. If Polytechnic don’t make it big in the next 12 months, I’ll be very astounded because they bring together in a very convincing symbiosis the indie sounds of two countries and make it all their own.

For more pictures of Polytechnic at Islington Mill, please follow the link to Flickr.

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