There are two things that most definitely will not be missed when Manchester’s “Old Lady” is criminally levelled to make way for unnecessary and unwelcome redevelopment: the appalling quality of their draught ale; and the surly, unwelcoming behaviour of the corpulent head barman. Everything else about this wonderful little venue, from its weathered, ageing exterior to its intimate attic space, will be a terrible loss to the history and future of this proudly cultural city.
Battling against The Angus Young Quintet a mile up the road, tonight the S&G was treated to the second visit to the city in fourteen months from Denver monsters Primitive Man and their friends and touring partners, Brighton’s Sea Bastard. Repeating last year’s scenario, local Black Thrashers Satanic Dystopia dropped at the eleventh hour so it was left to fellow Mancunians Barbarian Hermit to blaze the trail. Though less sartorially striking than at the NOIZ All-dayer two months earlier, their Sludge-flavoured NOLA template woke up the room: charismatic frontman Si Scarlett’s roar carrying an incredible depth, his Ollie Reed-like features reinforced by the drama of his performance. With Scarlett and similarly-attired bassist Chris Wood launching their baker boy caps early doors, however, the lack of visual strike from this albeit powerful, entertaining band exposed the music which, despite the heavy groove and some electrifying leadwork from Adam Robertshaw, didn’t carry the intensity of the other bands.
As the first crushing chords came in, Sea Bastard frontman Monty looked as sleepy as his shirt. The south-east monstrosity came wading in, however, with the colossal weight and sluggish movement of a rudely-awoken Kraken. ‘The Hermit’, their massive contribution to the recent ‘split’ with their touring buddies, seemed so much more brutal live: Monty’s cavernous, blackened roar duelling with the sarsen-dragging rhythm section and Oli Irongiant’s crushing axe, entertainingly and expressively wielded as ever. The band are completely transfixing and, in this little room, the implosive, crawling portent made one feel physically sick in the most passionate, euphoric fashion. To witness Irongiant undertake the riff solo of the ensuing ‘Astral Rebirth’ and feel the pain of every chord was both moving, terrifying and euphorically ominous, foretelling the phenomenal crush that soon arrived and duly sent the rafters for cover. The subtle yet bewildering speed of bassist Steve Patton and touring drummer Sam Chase in the track’s quickening, meanwhile, displayed the gamut of skill possessed by this unit: one of the greatest from our shores and certainly responsible for one of the all-time great performances here.
Primitive Man shouldn’t be here again, but thank fuck they are. Their sound is a hideous joy: Ethan McCarthy’s diseased, crazed delivery comes from one of the nicest guys around, his bulging eyes as terrifying as his roaring mouth, which gave the impression that his whole face was opening. Jonathan Campos’ bass, in turn, isn’t a bass: it’s 20,000 articulated engines crushing your soul with every pluck of the string. New drummer Joe laid waste to his kit, McCarthy eyeing the ceiling with the torment and belief of a guy who’s actually seen God. Suddenly, all of the musicians who’d appeared earlier were transfixed, videoing the performance as if we’d never see the Man’s like again. The pace switched whilst maintaining the horror, a stark isolation blending with raw emotion, and to do that with such pregnant hostility was utterly enthralling.
The vicious, howling breakdown of the set closer (“Just a new track” McCarthy typically understated later) is the most harrowing expression of pain and hate I’ve ever witnessed, turning possessed devotees into shirt-ripping zealots with the sheer uncontrollable tension of it all. Shattered, spent, deaf, and grinning from ear to ear, I was by no means alone in caring not a jot for any damage done to my creaking body. It was a joyous surprise to see both of these bands so soon, and who knows how long it will be until the next time. When that does come around, there is quite simply no good reason for your absence.
WORDS BY PAUL QUINN