The Besnard Lakes @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester (2nd April 2016)

DSC_0073The Deaf Institute is exactly the kind of venue that any fan would love to see their favourite band perform in. Its warmth and intimacy is the exact opposite of what you too often get when attending larger venues where the beer is a bit crappy and the sound quality hit-or-miss. There were no such issues on this busy Saturday evening Manchester. The Victorian-era venue is about 5-10 minutes stroll from Oxford Road Station and was derelict less than a decade ago until its current occupiers did a fantastic job of restoring it. Containing three levels with the 300 capacity music hall situated on the top floor, it’s not just one of city’s finest gig small spaces but arguably one of the best in the country.

Support for the evening was provided by local lads TREMORS, a five-piece whose blend of indie rock and Americana was a superb choice alongside The Besnard Lakes. Featuring two guitarists and a keyboardist, their sunny melodies and chiming guitars were at times reminiscent of The War On Drugs. Judging by how many turned up to watch their set (which included a few family members) they’re clearly a popular band locally, recently supporting the likes of Youth Lagoon and The Coral’s former guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones when they’ve visited Manchester. No doubt we’ll be seeing more of them across the city this spring and summer.

Five-piece The Besnard Lakes, led by husband-and-wife Jace Lasek (guitarist/vocalist) and Olga Goreas (bassist/vocalist), have been among the Canada’s top bands for close to a decade now but have yet to reach the level of popularity attained by the likes of fellow Canadians Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. This despite the critical acclaim their albums have received since their 2007 breakthrough and Polaris Music Prize nominated …Are the Dark Horse. Their fanbase here in the UK remains a modest but dedicated one, as evidenced by the fact that one attendee was seeing them for the eighth time. It didn’t take long to understand why someone would want to see this band that amount of times.

While their sonically rich and moving mix of dreamy shoegaze and prog-tinged space-rock featuring the utterly gorgeous harmonies of Jace Lasek’s falsetto and Olga Goreas mid-range vocals are fantastic on record (all of which are self-produced by Jace Lacek in his Breakglass Studio), everything that makes them such a great listen in the home is retained live with plenty of added volume. Their grand sound wouldn’t be at all out of place on a bigger stage, but sadly it’s an opportunity that hasn’t come along too often for one of the most consistent bands of the last decade.

Despite their latest album A Coliseum Complex Museum gaining slightly less approval than their previous records, its more conventionally structured approach works a treat live alongside some of their more sprawling numbers. Early set highlights included the epic two-part opener “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent”with its Pink Floyd circa-1975 drone intro that morphs into something altogether more muscular, and the driving “And This Is What We Call Progress” with its big beat and powerful, swooning guitars. Stand-out moments from their latest album included the steady groove of recent single “Golden Lion” and the chugging “Tungsten 4: The Refugee” which gave way to soaring guitar solos that saw the married couple come together for a guitar vs. bass face-off.

The set was largely dominated by the lead vocals of Jace Lacek, but the tender vocals of Olga Goreas took over for a couple of numbers which proved to be the finest moment of the evening. The gorgeous dream pop influenced “People of the Sticks” from their slow-burning 2013 album Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, and “Albatross” from their 2010 album …Are the Roaring Night, with its shoegazey guitar-lead and Jace Lacek’s falsetto backing vocals, ending with an extended smoke and strobe-filled outro through which the band were barely visible. It was a peak that wouldn’t be beaten but rounding their set off with the The Beach Boys inspired “Disaster” and the dreamy waltz of latest single “Necronomicon” came pretty close.

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