Live Review: Liverpool Sound City

Various Venues, Liverpool, May 19th-21st

The format of this sort of event can often prove a little tiresome, and although the weather does little to encourage punters to venture out this weekend (high winds and heavy rain? Yum!), Sound City is buzzing nonetheless, the scope and variety of Liverpool’s venues and the enthusiasm of its gig-goers ensuring it doesn’t need to trade on its past glories as birthplace of legends. It starts off slowly on Thursday night, though, with local ’lectro-boffins Capac playing early doors to a Kazimier crowd that is, quite literally, grounded.

It’s a pity, as their [a]65daysofstatic[/a]-doing-[a]Friendly Fires[/a] shtick could be a real party-starter in four or five hours’ time, when people are ready for the floor more in the [a]Hot Chip[/a] sense. Ditto Ghosting Season, a new alias of underappreciated Leeds-based knob-twiddlers worriedaboutsatan, whose lively electronica takes a turn towards the Balearic before disappearing into twinkly post-rock guitar-noise… and back again. Note to the delegates pulling ironic rave shapes: don’t clap during the quiet bits, especially if your sense of timing is on a par with that of a ketamine-addled baboon.

Things are warming up nicely by the time we arrive at Mojo for some good old-fashioned indie rock from [a]Pete & The Pirates[/a], whose eager, earnest delivery is simply impossible to hate. Never before have we encountered a bass player who seems to be enjoying his band’s endeavours more than every member of the audience combined – all the more impressive considering that, by and large, Pete and co go down a storm. There doesn’t seem to be much musical progression between oldies (and goodies) like [a]‘Knots’[/a] to latest single ‘United’, but, as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke…

Come Friday, on the other hand, a lot of things seem to be. We endure a near half-hour of Kurt Vile and his Violators tuning up and complaining about the monitors; earlier [a]Black Lips[/a] are late arriving at The Masque, where Kopparberg cider is fuelling probably the gnarliest venue in town, missing their soundcheck and spending the first few tunes wrestling with non-working microphones and generally sounding muddier than the average Glastonbury. When the overworked sound guy eventually lets them get into their stride, circa a riotous ‘O Katrina’, the crowd go predictably wild – and Liverpudlians, it turns out, go crazier for this band than most. ‘Bad Kids’ has certainly never sounded more appropriate than tonight.

Elsewhere, it’s a case of contrasting fortunes for two of the city’s own. Clinic play to a less-than-heaving Bombed Out Church (which is exactly what it says on the tin: the shell of a church that fell foul of the Luftwaffe in 1941, now a semi-outdoor gig space), but struggle to be heard due to the high winds; [a]Miles Kane[/a], meanwhile, wows a capacity St George’s Hall with his high-octane, freakbeat-inspired rock and pop thrills. Playing most of recent solo debut ‘Colour Of The Trap’, Kane and his band look ridiculously assured in front of what must be the most partisan crowd of the festival. But what’s that? Did someone mention the ‘B’ word? Needless to say, a rousing cover of The Fab Four’s underappreciated ‘Hey Bulldog’ totally brings the house down.

The evening ends at the Kazimier with something completely different: taking their cues more from [a]Battles[/a] than [a]The Beatles[/a], London trio Three Trapped Tigers really unleash their inner animal tonight, perhaps feeling the need to prove something at their first ever performance in a Liverpool venue. Whatever the motivation, we’ve seen this band several times over the last few years but never seen them thrill a crowd like this – arms are aloft, heads nod and cuts from debut album ‘Route One Or Die’ melt minds. The best time to see TTT, then, is around 2am: festival bookers, take note. A good time to see Lanterns On The Lake, on the other hand, is when you’re feeling a little fragile.

Their early-ish Saturday slot at the O2 Academy 2, hosted by label Bella Union – a perfect home for this kind of thing – offers swooning melodies, gorgeous harmonies and gentle, brooding builds. They’re the exact point that folk meets post-rock, and ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’ is downright gorgeous. Over at the legendary Zanzibar venue, meanwhile, [a]Niki And The Dove[/a]’s spangly attire elicits a few puzzled expressions from some of the locals, but once the lights dim and ‘The Fox’’s tribal drums kick in, the room as one is left rapt. The [a]Fever Ray[/a] comparisons are probably inevitable (they’re Swedish and they make interesting, dark music), but only tell half the story: these are massive pop tunes that sound destined for far bigger stages than this. Montreal’s Braids round off an eclectic evening with a mesmerising rendition of debut album ‘Native Speaker’ – it’s the most innovative performance of the weekend, with every loop, whir and click lovingly recreated.

‘Glass Deers’ is a highlight, and, as the band build their textured soundscapes, underpinned by soaring, yelping vocal melodies, we can’t help but feel we’re falling hard for their [a]Animal Collective[/a]-channelling-Cocteau Twins stylings. It might not be the official Capital Of Culture any more, but who needs hollow, state-sponsored accolades when you’ve got a city that’s as full of buzz, and as absent of industry cynicism, as this one?

Rob Webb