City fans are out in force on a dreary Manchester evening, whole-heartedly dominated by Mancini endorsed scarfs, families (and family dogs) dressed head to toe in sky blue, and the ever irritating honk of the Vuvuzela. For those of us without a care in the world for Citeh’ or Man ewe, the prospect of a free gig, fine ales and the heavy sonic assault of Brooklyn trio The Big Sleep, seemed well worth battling through the masses.
Greeted on entry with a sign reading ‘No Football Shirts, No Arguments, No Exceptions’, The Castle instantly offered that elusive safe haven of music and Ale. Missing opening act White Vinyl, whilst circumnavigating the city-wide parade, I made it in time for second on the bill, Dead Sea Apes.
Immediately drawing the interest of a moderately sized crowd with shimmering cymbals and ethereal sounds, their songs soon swell in to large beast like mothership’s of the “stoner rock” variety. I do have issue with the term “stoner rock”, since Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker rightfully pointed out how all music is essentially stoner rock, as almost all music sounds better when stoned. Nonetheless, Dead Sea Apes bowled me over with the enormity of their instrumental swirls. Their 3 track Album “Astral House” is a purchase I’d highly recommend for those with a penchant for hazy and sinister psychedelic rock of epic proportions. Whether stoned or not stoned.
Strangely the crowd level dipped slightly for headline act The Big Sleep. Regardless, the three-piece take the noisy and sinister baton and run with it. Their set opens with a hail of screechy reverb and white noise before launching in to You Can’t Touch the Untouchable from their debut album Son of the Tiger. Locked in to a driving rhythm section, guitarist Danny Barria adds the layers of a Casio hook and spacial fuzz over this water tight instrumental warm up. New single Ace impresses with a four to the floor stomp allowing bass player/ keyboardist Sonya Balchandani and guitarist Danny Barria the chance to flex their dancing legs. Heads bob with intrigue.
Kicking in to Red Carpet, Valentine and Gas up the Jets, Sonya’s vocals and keys are just no match for the eleven setting of Barria’s beast of a Vox amp. This isn’t a criticism of her vocal prowess though, merely a feeling of disappointment in not being able to hear her lo-fi lyrics. The reserved response and polite but unenthusiastic hand claps from the crowd (which seems to have plagued far too many Manchester gig venues of late) then added to what felt like a dip in The Big Sleep’s set. The feeling from both audience and band drifting towards awkwardness.
The secret weapon to The Big Sleep’s live ammunition though, is Barria’s Guitar hero prowess, which gloriously shines through on Pinkies and when breaking out The Big Guns and Four Wishes. Think Nick Zinner hammering through Led Zeppelin numbers. Epic and thrashing riffs, bringing this gig back to life.
The Big Sleep won’t look back on this set as a stand out moment on their latest tour. The Castle wasn’t the right venue for this gig; the crowd was moderate and lacked enthusiasm and the vocals were a vague whimper over a heavy sound. With all of these excuses aside though, I found it difficult to get on board with tracks from their latest album, Nature Experiments, in a live setting. It’s hard to tell whether the band is shooting for convincing rock ‘n’ roll parody or genuine balls-out bravado at times, leaving a disjointed portrait of a group that has the means to get a crowd pumped. They come alive when Sonya forgets about her Juno 60 keyboard (which adds little to their sound) picks up her bass, locks in to a groove with drummer Gabe, and Barria let’s rip with his barbed wire fret work.