Manchester International Festival review: These New Puritans, Whyte Horses and Chrysta Bell pay fittingly bizarre tribute to David Lynch

Score

Home, Manchester Saturday 13 July

At Manchester’s arts hub Home, there’s a David Lynch takeover for the biannual Manchester International Festival. There’s an exhibition of the paintings (a discipline in which he originally trained), prints, sculptures and frankly nightmarish lamps – which suggest Ikea won’t be giving him a range soon – that provide a visceral insight into the American director/polymath’s macabre mind.

Arguably, however, music is where he’s most made his mark outside of directing, with a series of albums – featuring collaborations with the likes of Karen O and Lykke Li – as well as the enduring influence of his film and TV scores, which have been referenced by everyone from Anthrax and Moby to Bastille. Even Lana Del Rey’s image could be described as a “millennial Laura Palmer”, the doomed beauty queen from cult ’90s show Twin Peaks.

Tonight’s concert is the last in a three-night-stand of artists reinterpreting the music of Lynch. And it runs the gamut of emotions you feel watching one of his films: there are moments of genius, pretension, boredom, great music, and bits where it goes mad-balls and it’s as confusing as asking Grimes about her workout regime.

The “dark cabaret and chaos” starts with Lynch’s muse, musician Chrysta Bell – who played FBI Agent Tammy Preston in the divisive 2017 Twin Peaks revival – shrouded in darkness, performing a nonsensical monologue which you might charitably describe as “cryptic” but sounds like a stoned magnetic poetry kit.

Next up, Manchester’s shifting musical collective Whyte Horses perform their loving,  winning homage to French pop, while the trio of vocalists  charmingly dance like Bananarama on ketamine. Every so often throughout their set, jesters in creepy clown masks inexplicably caper onstage to talk in rhyme. Actorly monologues! Jesters! Creepy clowns!  All they need to add is a juggler and they’d have the entire Family Fortunes board of ‘People you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with’. As dry-ice engulfs them like the fog that swirled through Twin Peaks, Whyte Horses are joined by Chrysta Bell for a dramatic cover of Cher’s ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’.

Chrysta Bell

After an intermission, Chrsyta Bell is back, entering the stage via interpretive dance. Once described as “the most beautiful alien ever” by Lynch, she performs her brooding, smoky collaborations with him such as ‘Real Love’, which simmers with seediness, and the whisky-joint jukebox number ‘Swing With Me’, as well as own solo tracks like the Bond theme-esque ‘Time Never Dies’.  At times, she sounds like ‘Felt Mountain’-era Goldfrapp – what we used to call (damn fine) coffee table music.

These New Puritans 2019

If there’s one act that you could argue are as uncompromising and challenging in their vision as Lynch, it’s headliners These New Puritans, whose claustrophobic world (with images of fire and trees) shares some of his DNA.

Opening with the fever-dream of  ‘Dark Mood Woods’, from Angelo Badalamenti’s imperious Twin Peaks soundtrack, they look like they’re playing the show’s Bang Bang Bar as they cherry-pick from Lynch’s catalogue. It shows how much frontman Jack Barnett has progressed as a vocalist that he can tackle David Bowie’s ominous ‘I’m Deranged’, while their softly sinister  take on Eraserhead’s ‘In Heaven’ shines.

It feels like an antecedent of their own  miasmic nursery-rhyme ‘Where The Trees Are On Fire’, taken from their most recent ‘Inside The Rose’ album.  The instrumental ‘The Pink Room’ – culled from the maligned at the time but later reappraised Twin Peaks prequel Fire Walk With Me – sees Jack take to the drums for a tribal-workout face-off, but their own material effortlessly segues into the Lynch originals.

The  crepuscular electro ballads ‘A-R-P’, ‘Infinity Vibraphones’ and ‘Into The Rose’ – and deliriously disorientating closer ‘We Want War’ – swell with menace and threat – to the point where you assume Dennis Hopper from Blue Velvet is going to invade the stage and do something unspeakable.

Admittedly, there’s always something that feels infuriatingly ‘shush, quiet-in-the-library’ about watching a mercurial pop show presented reverentially in a sit-down, politely clap-at-the-end theatrical setting. But (to paraphrase Mark Kermode talking about Blue Velvet) you tend to love and hate David Lynch films at the same time: there can be no more fitting tribute that at times this night makes you feel the same.

These New Puritans played: 

‘Dark Mood Woods’ (Twin Peaks soundtrack)

‘A-R-P’

‘I’m Deranged’ (Lost Highway)

‘In Dreams’ segway (Blue Velvet)

‘Infinity Vibraphones’

‘In Heaven Everything Is Fine’ (Eraserhead)

‘Inside The Rose’

‘Sycamore Trees’  (Twin Peaks)

‘Laura Palmer Theme’ segway (Twin Peaks)

‘Into The Fire’

‘Fire-Power’

‘The Pink Room’ (Fire Walk With Me)

‘Where The Trees Are On Fire’

‘We Want War’