Agent Blue Live @ Jabez Clegg Manchester

Agent Blue/The Suzukis/Casual Saints/Big Cash Prizes @ Jabez Clegg Manchester 15/7/04

Alot of the audience arrived late, just making it in time for the first band, and they must have been rushing up the steps and hammering on the doors to get in as quickly as they could. Four bands, the headliners signed to a major and making big waves on the live scene and in the press at the moment. When Big Cash Prizes went on they switched their smoke machine to full and left it on for most of the gig. The singer wheeled himself around, banging into his band mates who slipped in and out of view under the smoke and strobes. The lights fitted the music, flashing on and off as sharp electro-beats slammed into the crowd and punk guitars crashed over and over.

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The Casual Saints lifted themselves off the accelerator, and suffered because of it. They started off with a good opener, a low-slung groove with some uplifting songwriting over it, but they soon fell into a unimagination, sounding far too much like a baggy-by-numbers band, outdated next to the others who were playing tonight. The first song was good, if they’d kept that up they would at least have been able to put a singalong smile on everyone’s faces, but as soon as the singer picked up an acoustic guitar I felt like heading for the downstairs bar. Too much introspection got in the way of what could have been a good hands-in-the-air gig.

The first time I saw the Suzukis, a couple of months back at the same venue, they all had floppy-fringes and strutted about in tight, ripped jeans. Now, the poster for the night promised that they would have new haircuts, but they seem to have gone for a complete overhaul. Sounding very little like ‘Wigan’s answer to the Rolling Stones’ as the promoter had promised, they were more like Manc stalwarts the Fall. All the band had shaved their heads, and the singer put on a thousand yard stare that got pretty intimidating at some points. Problem was, he also insisted on throwing half-empty plastic pint glasses in every direction. Now this would be alright if he really had somebody to get at, if he was aiming at his boss, the police or a visiting president, but why was he throwing them at a room full of youths who were, basically, on his side? It’s not like he was going to do any real damage, it was only weak lager and plastic after all, so the aggression seemed more than a little contrived and towards the end just became irritating.

Tragically, he did score one lucky hit, and managed to soak part of the mixing desk, the part that controlled the onstage monitors. This meant that headliners Agent Blue went on stage very late ’cause their crew were desperately trying to fix the PA, and since their attempts were in vain the band couldn’t hear a note they were playing. You could tell it got to them, but they are very good live, and even when they are put off slightly by things going wrong, they just seem to pile it all into what they are doing. The NME were spot on when they compared them to the Happy Mondays and The Sex Pistols recently, singer Nic Andrews’ blunt vocals echo those of Shawn Ryder but they throw so much power at the crowd that they override the Monday’s grooves and come close towards the ferocity of the Pistols. Instead of throwing pint glasses at the crowd they decided to throw themselves instead, a couple of the band ending up on the floor and the audience getting control of the microphone on more than one occasion. They replied to a hyperactive crowd by whipping them up even more, banging out recent single ‘Sex, Drugs and Rocks through your Window’ to a room full of people who by the end of the gig had their shirts off and were left staring wide-eyed at the stage.

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Chris Helsby

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