McAlmont & Butler - Manchester Academy 2 - 1.10.02

Last time McAlmont & Butler performed in Manchester it was for a stripped down acoustic show at Poptastic in-between the likes of Britney and S Club Juniors. Tonight they play in a venue with Hell Is For Heroes rocking the masses upstairs. You couldn't think of two diametrically opposed situations but David McAlmont and Bernard Butler have always thrived on the fact that their unique blend of Spector sized soul is so timeless that the fashions of the day really don't come into it.

After coming together for the second time and renewing their vows in public the pair seem at ease from the moment they tread the stage for the "Theme Of McAlmont & Butler". Whereas the scars may run deep, on the outside they couldn't be more happier to be out in public declaring their mutual love for each other - a lush line from the voice of an Angel is dutifully returned by the slickest riff from Bernard who shakes his hips teasingly throughout. There's a genuine chemistry which puts pay to the suggestions that the pairing is purely a financial one and for the first time in the world Bernard Butler seems genuinely happy to be just playing his guitar rather than worrying about what his collaborators are doing to the right of the stage. When a punter shouts out "play us some Smiths, Bernard" rather than scowl and dismiss he gently reels us in with the riff to "This Charming Man" before laughing at the spectacle of it all.

Dedicating "Where Are You Know" to the former Popstars Hear'say, who split earlier that day and shared a stage month's earlier with M&B at G.A.Y in London, McAlmont lashes his tongue out with the words I don't even need to say the word - Shrek!!!! Playful and catty is how we like it, but it's just one moment amongst a plethora of classic songs from the bands debut album "The Sound Of McAlmont & Butler" and the recent "Bring It Back". The Prince pastiche of "What's The Excuse This Time?", the Northern Soul influenced "Can We Make It" and the bands next single "Bring It Back" have the crowd in the palms of their hands and the paralysing effect which sets in when you desperately want to dance, yet can't keep your eyes veering left right left right between the axemeister and the vocal perfection. Even on the bands two weakest songs "Blue" and "Sunny Boy" which they play stripped down and acoustic for an encore following an electric version of the "Falling" single are played with such a passion in the midst of the crowd you can help be won over.

Just when you feel heaven is only a step away they raise the ante with a version of Take That's "Back For Good which they recently recorded for the One Love charity album. McAlmont's vocals soaring where Gary Barlow's once ambled along in that asexual boy band lethargic monotone and Butler pushing the song into unknown territories. It's the perfect crystallization of how pop music can genuinely posses an higher knowledge when put in the right hands and the mind wanders as to what Gareth Gates "Stupid Mistake" could sound like in the hands of the true professionals. But still they have one song to leave us with and it wouldn't be a M&B gig without the song that truly placed them in people's hearts, "Yes", staying true to the recorded version in the knowledge that it was perfection on a 45 they leave the stage like conquering heroes.

Alex McCann

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