Pitchinvasion / Frontrunner / Hey Bulldog / Sandbox - Night & Day Manchester - May 22nd

It started with a broken drum kit which meant the gig very nearly didn't happen and it ended with a brawl outside Night & Day, but amidst the chaos there were moments of brilliance.

Sandbox are the musical tale of the tortoise and the hair. While many bands in Manchester have been hyped as the best new band before fading away, its a band like Sandbox, who over the years have gone through numerous line-up chances and stayed on the sidelines of Manchester's music scene, who look to be finally winning the race with increasingly better songs and stagepresence. In fact the majority of the crowd tonight are here for their first gig of the year following a hiatus since  last Christmas. A couple of false starts don't take away from the fact that Sandbox's effortless blend of catchy hooks and early 90s indie tuneage are a much more appetizing prospect than the highly stylized Long Blondes. Frontwoman Lennie is much more in theangry fem mode of Sonya Echobelly or Louise Weiner than playing up to the current media charachiture of fat spice (The Gossip), Kooky spice (Kate Jackson - Long Blondes) or mentalist spice (Lovefoxxx - CSS). It's Sandbox's reluctance to play the game that will serve them well in the longrun and these songs are already classics

The name Hey Bulldog has been floating around for well over 6 months since Designer Magazine declared their debut EP to be "the most vital release we've heard since Oasis's "Definitely Maybe". It's taken this long to complete the line-up as on record they are essentially the solo work of frontman Rob Manton. So after national airplay on Steve Lamacq's radio show and sell-out EPs at Piccadilly Records made the debut show from Hey Bulldog worth the wait? Yes and No. While there's no denying these songs distil everything that is great about rock'n'roll and have the same impact as early albums from the White Stripes, live the vocals don't always hit the mark and don't carry the same impact as the music behind it. That said by the time they get to "Desperado", a song so big that you can imagine 50,000 Oasis fans jumping to it at the City Of Manchester Stadium, they've won the crowd over as much as the critics have been. At the moment Hey Bulldog are a good live band, but with a few more shows behind them expect them to be an unmissable live band.

Whether Frontrunner could do anything other than plough the same furrow of Madchester as the likes of the Vortex and The Reason are doing now is probably a question that doesn't need answering. Manager Fatneck was immortalized in the Black Grape track of the same name, but is equally known for his stunts at live sporting events, their first gig was supporting Bez and Domino Bones and the band recently hosted a rammed show for Northside at the Ritz. Their links with Madchester are well established but has some of the musical magic rubbed off on them? In frontman Lee Turner they have a confident frontman and tunes "You're Not The Only One" and "Everyone Sing And Sing" tick all the boxes. The songwriting is in place but there is the nagging feeling off haven't we heard this all before. There's a huge market for this band otherwise South wouldn't be packed out every week with mid 30yr olds listened to classic tracks, whether Frontrunner could convince anyone under 20 is something that time will tell, but then the Twang have done it and Frontrunner tower above the brummie chancers.

As the name suggests Pitchinvasion are a noisy and anarchic affair and by the end of the it we cant work out whether its total punk rock or just shit. The audience have made their mind up with their feet however and got out of the venue while they still can. Amongst the chaos though there are moments of brilliance. "The Kid" has a lolloping groove reminiscent of PIL while "So Tell Me" sounds like a swansong of a power ballad from a punk band who've decided they can write tunes rather than just make a noise and it works well. If only the rest of the set sounded so good Pitchinvasion could have won over a large number of tonight's audience instead of pushing most of them out of the door, but I guess when faced with the cartoon punk of Towers Of London, Pitchinvasion would laugh and get back to making real punk rock.

Alex McCann
Photos: Kirsty Umback www.kirstyumback.com


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