Manchester Contact Theatre

Too weird for the Top Ten perhaps, but only a few months away from slavish devotion.

Frontman Lee Gorton would disagree. After all, when Alfie last played London, he actually got off his stool. For a bit. But, believe me, cavalier seating arrangements aside, Alfie don't rock out, they purr, stretch and briefly scamper about, like slightly stoned kittens.



Gigs in theatres usually work about as well as laptops underwater, but seats (onstage and off) and a hushed audience are precisely what Alfie need. Their fragile tunes (trumpets, cello, flute as well the usual) really need listening to, intently. Sure, it could be oppressive, but Alfie are so relaxed onstage, you wonder how they ever get anything done in rehearsals. The first thing Lee and his giddier foil, guitarist Ian Smith, do is sort out who's got the bottle opener. Priorities, see.



Knees tucked under his chin, eyes shut, distractedly picking at his shoes, Lee - Ian Brown's cheekbones, Tim Burgess' cheeky grin, dry asides all his own - is the sort of frontman that turns a good band into a great one. The voice is a nagging north Manchester ache, laconic, vulnerable, almost sneeringly sexy. The only question: do we want to shag him or be him?



Given Lee's bone-structure, and Alfie's intuitive grooviness, the 'folk Stone Roses' tag is tempting. But, they're on Twisted Nerve, and their pop instincts are, well, twisted. Mid-set triumvirate '2 Up 2 Down', 'Sure And Simple Time' and 'Umlaut' almost sashay along, melding the quicksilver, post-rock guitars of, say, Sam Prekop with the snaking wooziness of The Charlatans, and The Delgados' whirring, stirring confections.



As with the latter, space, angular opposition and uplifting, melodic rushes are crucial, the five-strong band (and regular assistants) creating a warm, iridescent glow that's greater than the sum of its, sometimes reedy, parts. These are tunes to luxuriate in. Although, maudlin opener 'James' Dream' and the chuntering Northern soul triumphalism of 'Bends For 72 Miles' prove that Alfie want to, and can, do more than spread lazy-lidded good vibes.



They're still growing (on vinyl, particularly) but, no question, Alfie already feel like a great band. Too weird for the Top Ten perhaps, but only a few months away from slavish devotion.

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