Pacific Road - Birkenhead

Saturday 30 November 2002

ticketIt's encouraging to see that the Man band are playing in venues never previously visited, such as this one. It's a large converted warehouse towards the end of the Wirral, not far from the Mersey tunnel. As far as I can tell, it's run by the local council, and hosts a variety of musical and cultural exhibitions. Just what councils are supposed to do, really.

The ManbandA few pleasant surprises to begin with: I can't recall many previous recent Man gigs which had a security team, all dressed in white shirt, black tie and black bomber jackets - straight out of Phoenix Nights! The hall itself was equally impressive - a good size, and as large a stage as I've seen Man perform on for a long time. Martin was at the bar, and he was also impressed, and even mentioned it was the sort of place which would do a good job of hosting a Convention. I was beginning to think he might be right, then I noticed the bar was advertising four pint jugs of Timothy Taylor's Landlord for seven quid. OK, I'm convinced.

There were plenty of tables and seats, but all in the back half of the hall - I'll return to this later. So, I settled down with my jug, with the comfortable feeling that comes from having a security man standing in close attendance, and got ready for the show.

A support act came on, and as is my habit, I missed the name. Maybe just as well. A four piece of guitarist/singer, guitarist/violinist, drummer and bassist. They were proudly avant-garde, and set about challenging the audience with their unusual style. Half way through each song, the bass player, a young woman, would stop playing bass and hammer away at a keyboard, producing a most discordant and alarming noise. In every song, mark you. I'm pretty sure this was what they intended to sound like, ("We're supposed to sound rough" announced the singer) but it was strange; especially their version of the Clapping Song. It takes all sorts.

The ManbandSo shortly after, the Man band came on. As already noted, it was a big stage, with plenty of space to move around in, and a proper rostrum for Bob's drums. The lights were excellent, and there was even (pinch me) a smoke machine. Also, (I think), a new feature - Gareth's keyboard station included a microphone, and during Do It we did get all five joining in on the chorus. The band did look very happy on the large stage, though at times during the first two numbers Ace was making frantic signals to get the monitors adjusted.

Manillo was allegedley taken at a faster pace, though I couldn't detect any difference, and Walrus has developed into a gritty rocker performed live. This was turing into a good performance. Here comes the 'but'. But... I was slightly concerned the atmosphere was a bit below par. The reason is obvious - everyone was at the tables which were in the rear half of the hall, then there was a ten yard gap to the stage. A few brave souls (including the support's bassist) used this for dancing towards the end, but the distance between band and audience was metaphorical as well as physical.

There were more monitor adjustments during Ride, but never mind that, it was a terrific performance. There was a great Hammond solo from Gareth, and Deke gave his Gibson a very thorough workout. If the band wre troubled by the atmosphere, they weren't letting it show.

GarethWith Micky Jones' enforced absence, C'mon had been dropped from the set, and that seemed to me to be the right thing to do. So I was surprised to hear it reintroduced, especially here, half way through. But don't worry, George Jones has put plenty of his own personality into it, and it was a triumph. Starting with a spooky intro, George takes lead vocal, and adds a great solo making extensive use of volume control and wahwah. A new twist on an old favourite, this was excellent. George also took the vocal on Asylum - it's clear that the German tour has done wonders for his confidence.

Short, fierce and to the point. Excellent.

George's influence has even reached the first encore, Spunk Rock, which now has an extended intro with just his guitar and Bob's drums. This must give a longer break for the more mature band members, but is worthwhile on its own merit anyway. Once the others did arrive, they turned in a sterling performance, and closed with a solid Romaine.

I'm pretty sure it was a good gig, it was just the atmosphere thing that niggled at me. Thre were plenty of people there, they just should have been nearer the front. Oh, and one last thing I only noticed on the way out - I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it was a no smoking venue, there were certainly no ashtrays on the tables. Martin might think again about that Convention idea.

PS  I have now been told smoking is permitted at this venue.

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