Opening tonight’s gig, Virginia Wing keep being thrown off their stride. From frowns of consternation on stage as well as consistent fluffs by their drummer it seems like there’s an issue with monitoring, and intermittently there’s a burst of digital noise and the mic winks out, leaving singer Alice Merida Richards stranded and frustrated. It’s a shame, for when they do manage to sneak a song in uninterrupted, out comes confident, engaging modern psych.
Hookworms’ set begins in a familiar way to previous tours; feedback licks around the edges of the stage, band members whispering incantations to summon creeping noise forth from battered speaker cabs. A scream rises from singer MJ and the band surge, the scream folding over itself as echoes turn to auto-oscillation. The track is Away/Towards, the opener from their 2013 debut Pearl Mystic – though it hardly matters. Sections of the crowd are already headbanging, and there’s even some dancing down at the front.
A warble of electronics resolves into the spaced-out Beginners from new album The Hum, from which most of tonight’s tracks originate. At its best, Beginners somewhat recalls the final, brilliant track of Secret Machines’ first album Now Here Is Nowhere, shot through with the erratic, frazzled and uncalculating vigour of psych monsters White Hills.
What’s most interesting about Hookworms though is that they appeal to a much broader demographic than just the psych-rock burnouts and space cadets; even through the frantic yelps and abused guitars of Impasse and single Radio Tokyo there’s almost a pop sensibility to how the melody lines fit in the maelstrom. The latter, in particular, wears the jangling, upbeat cymbal jangle of recent throwback West Coast indie rock, but confounds with noisy synthesiser drones and uncompromising bursts of guitar wrung painfully through wah pedals.
Off Screen takes the tempo down a degree, pulling the chord progressions and mood away to something approaching folky Americana – albeit Americana played through fuzz distortion. All of this said, individual songs are rather arbitrary; the band barely pause for a moment, playing with bloodied determination and finishing without the ubiquitous encore that plagues modern gigs. In fact, so surprising is this that the crowd mill about for at least 10 minutes before the venue turn on extra lights to make it clear that the evening’s entertainment is over.
Whether from the intensity of the set, beer or chemical stimulants, looking around at the crowd on the way out it seems likely that there will be many headaches in Manchester come tomorrow morning.