The force is strong here...

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Coral/Shack : Liverpool Zanzibar

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Coral/Shack : Liverpool Zanzibar

The force is strong here. Like the musical equivalent of The Karate Kid, Clark Kent and ‘The Matrix’’s Neo, [a]Coral[/a] have undoubtedly been bestowed with a prodigious gift. Lesser young men would have suffocated under the weight of expectation. But [a]Coral[/a] improve with every performance, thriving under the spotlight.

Why? Because they’re a brilliant musical riddle, never failing to surprise. One minute, frontman James Skelly is stomping a hole in the stage, the very personification of[a]Coral[/a]’s wide-eyed on stage aggression. The next he’s got a lump in his throat, singing [I]”There’s nothing more than the sea shells on the sea shore”[/I] during the boss ‘Calendars & Clocks’.

Uncompromising new single ‘Skeleton Key’ is two-and-a-half minutes of Scooby Doo-meets The Osmonds -‘Crazy-Horses’-in-the-markets-of-Zanzibar madness. As Shack’s head honcho Mick Head later so succinctly puts it “[a]Coral[/a] man, (shakes head, takes deep breath) – fookin’ ell”.

But the rookies don’t quite manage to upstage old timers, Shack. ‘Brookside’’s Jimmy Corkhill has nothing on the eternally damned brothers Mick and John Head. Despite having spent the last decade losing albums, losing record deals and losing their minds, only Kurt Cobain and Noel Gallagher penned better songs in the 90’s.

Tonight’s two-hour show, their first this side of 2000, may be plagued by sound problems, Mick Head’s amnesia and over enthusiastic stage-invading Scousers – yet the beguiling brilliance of their back catalogue carries them through. Folk heroes in every imaginable sense, they only disappoint in their eagerness to please (by playing old favourites for beer) and by not debuting any new material.

As ever, they’re beautifully shambolic. Highlights include a reworked ‘Streets Of Kenny’, a twinkling ‘Flannery’ and a positively anthemic ‘Comedy’. On tonight’s evidence, the Shack story’s got a few twists in it yet. The chances of a happy ending though? Given past form, not bloody likely, but we can still hope.

Imran Ahmed