District 97 Live Review - Manchester, Sound Control

Dave Kerzner and District 97 at the live controls, with special guest Durga McBroom.

District 97 live in Manchester
(Image: © Mike Gray)

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Dave Kerzner is hardly a household name, but he’s well-connected in progressive circles: known for founding Sound Of Contact and serving up ‘atmospherics’ for the likes of Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett.

As such, Stranded sees Kerzner welcome one-time Pink Floyd backing vocalist Durga McBroom to the stage and she remains for the set; periodically unleashing some ceiling-high bursts.

The band themselves are more than capable, too. In particular, guitarist Fernando Perdomo, who glides through an extensive solo on The Lie with such conviction that Prog even forgives his bowler hat affectation.

The much-missed Keith Emerson guested on the studio recording of Kerzner’s Crossing Of Fates, so that’s what we’re expecting when Kerzner announces his “tip of the hat tribute”. Instead we get a powerful cover of ELP’s very own Lucky Man. It’s an emotive rendition – Kerzner’s laser-like keys halo-ing across Perdomo’s ever-climbing guitar notes in sheets of white noise.

(Image credit: Mike Gray)

Later McBroom leads a count off into Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky. It’s an excuse to show off their trophy prize, which is fair enough, even if this relatively straight cover lacks the Floyd’s tonal sparkle. Even so, the crowd goes pin-drop quiet and Kerzner can’t resist smiling. “Let’s just do all Dark Side… stuff. What the heck!” he jokes, as the assembled shake off raised neck hairs.

Chicagoan co-headliners District 97 get off to a shaky start with Death By A Thousand Cuts. Less ‘cutting’, more a woolly tangle of warped bass and arrhythmic lead lines, it’s not until the song’s final pounding breaths that District 97 appear to find their groove.

Once again it’s a guitarist who proves (against impossible odds) the humble star of the show. This time, Jim Tashjian, who, while frowning at his fretboard, spans the scales in a set of flexi-fingered wanderings that seem to power the band as a whole during A Lottery.

“We’ve had the honour of touring with John Wetton and playing King Crimson songs,” announces vocalist Leslie Hunt. “We’ll dedicate this one to Donald Trump. We’ll call it One More Red Orange Nightmare.”

They do their ‘benefactor’ sharp-handed justice and, suddenly, the band are awake. Keyboardist Andrew Lawrence – who has worn an expression of Forrest Gump-like vacancy for most of the night – is now out of his seat and churning out some crisp arpeggios. They’re met head on and batted back by Tashjian, as the performance takes on a responsive, jazz-like feel.

As District 97’s time concludes, they’re finally in full flight: Tashjian wrings the neck of his pointy six-string, as bassist Tim Seisser looks on, beaming. This, it occurs, is the band John Wetton must hear. We just wish they’d got here sooner.