Kraak Gallery, located in one of the northern quarter’s ubiquitous giant ex-warehouses, has the kind of unlabelled back alley entrance that, even with directions, you can walk right past twice.
And that’s exactly what we do. On a hunch, and because it’s raining, Prog follows a gaggle of smokers up a staircase and into a room that’s all rafters, air vents and math-rock hipsters, and somewhat accidentally arrives.
The downside of this urban orienteering is that we miss opening act Alpha Male Tea Party. This is upsetting, as their last collection, Droids, was this writer’s record of the year. Fortunately, we caught their ferocious Halloween set in Salford and can vouch for their ability: guitarist Tom Peters delivered three joyfully contagious riffs at once, while bassist Ben Griffiths was a hairy ball of unimpeded danger.
Back to this evening and it’s local heroes Cleft who are on next. They describe themselves as a “two-piece turbo-prog band”, which tonight’s show confirms is in fact accurate on both fronts. You’d think the litany of evolving licks documented on this year’s excellent Bosh! – a lexicon ranging from R.A.T.M. to King Crimson – were being made up on the spot, were it not for the tight-as-hell dynamic and rhythmic shifts. Special commendation is also due for funk-thrasher Alec Baldwin’s Hair.
Final support comes from Flesh, Manchester’s current 90s-channelling indie hip tip. “We’re not a math band but we try our best,” they proclaim. “I got a D in RE, too…” Arf. As is the recycled style of our time, they sound like Nirvana fronted by a Gallagher covering Blur singles. It’s a little too well-observed, but is redeemed somewhat by the out-of-context shred leads (Vauxhall Casanova) and an endearingly shambolic charm. Technical issues persist: “That’s what happens when you spend £50 on… everything.”
And then Trojan Horse ride in. This show, described as a “(re)launch party” for second album World Turned Upside Down, has been an appropriate encapsulation of their DIY take on prog – the bill is varied and the rules minimal. The room is darkened and echoes rebound off the brick warehouse walls into discordance. Out of the noise loom the three flannel-clad and bearded brothers Duke. The look is slightly Deliverance-esque, although with fewer squealing ‘piggies’ and more squealing guitars.
They take dynamics to extremes, at one stage silencing the crowd to the point where we can hear an un-amped guitar, before obliterating the quiet with a wall of sound. With its smart vocal interplay, the new record’s title track is a highlight, but it’s not until the show’s strobe-laden death throes that things really heat up: shirts are removed, instruments mistreated and, literally worshipping feedback, guitarist Nicholas and bassist Lawrence Duke are left prostrate across their monitors.