XFM Winter Wonderland - Manchester Apollo - 11.12.07

XFM's Rock School is a strange concept based on a bands ability to do a cover version. Its kind of an indie X Factor if you like and while we'd normally ignore this sort of thing you cant help but be taken by Altrincham band Tinmen whose version of Joy Division's "Transmission" stood tall above the competition. Tonight they capture all of the intensity of the original and with vocalist Jack Levy being given the actual bass that Hooky wrote the song on, it's sure a sign of approval. If their own songs are half as good as this then the band have a bright future ahead of them.

The Ting Tings prove yet again why they are the most talked about band in Manchester at the moment. After spending the last few months on the road with Reverend & The Makers and CSS, Katie White is turning into a real star of epic proportions. Once upon a time you'd go to a Ting Tings gig and be waiting for "That's Not My Name" or "Great DJ", but its "Shut Up And Let Me Go" which really grabs ups tonight with its funk beats and disco grooves all mixed up into a naughties melting pop. Cheryl Tweedy would probably punch katie's lights out for a chance to grab that song. Similar "Fruit Machine" is the sort of electro glitch track you'd expect from the likes of MIA rather than a duo living in a communal mill in Salford. You're definitely gonna be hearing a lot more of this Nu-Manc pop in 2008

Northern gobshite Liam Fray of The Courteeners has been getting more column inches for his scraps with The Enemy than he has for the music recently so tonight is really the first chance we've had chance to judge them on the music alone. Admittedly we've been a bit slack where the band have been concerned after walking out of their set during a Towers Of London support slot cos we got bored and then getting too pissed to watch them at D Percussion, but we're here cos the single "Acrylic" wiped away our previous bad experience of the band and got us interested again. That said nothing apart from new single "What Took You So Long?" and a midset ballad really stands out from a ramshackle set. The Courteeners have been one of Manchester hardest working bands creating what can only be described as their own scene while much of the rest of the city is floundering - something thats to be commended -  but sadly musically its a bit patchy even if the lairy crowd didn't stop moving throughout their set.

The Cribs have had their most successful year to date playing ever increasing venues, had a storming album produced by Franz Ferdinands Alex Kapranos and yet still found time to moan about the campaign for real indie music rather than commercial pap. We'd take The Cribs over the likes of The Kooks any day and its why tonight even though they're not headlining that they're without doubt the best band here tonight. While most of here for recent singles "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant" and "Men's Needs" its that old classic "Mirror Kisses" that for us is still the quintessential Cribs moment. Every song though is crammed full of melody which is then thrashed out punk rock style. They may not jump out into the crowd at the Apollo or unintentionally injure themselves in the process like they did at intimate shows such as Manchester Roadhouse but the Cribs are still one of the most exciting rock bands around at the moment

The Charlatans Tim Burgess has always been a little camp compared to the likes of Shaun Ryder and Ian Brown but then who isn't. Tonight to go along with The Charlatans new electro pop direction he seems to merge the haircut of an 80s Ian McCulloch and the really bad dance moves of Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon. Not surprisingly we think its the best the Charlatans have ever looked and sounded and about a million miles away from then they decided to make white boy reggae music a few years back. New single "You Cross My Path" is a good indicator with some Chemical Brothers style bleeps and squelches making way for New Wave guitar and New Order bass lines and to be honest it nearly matches some classic moments such as "You're So Pretty We're So Pretty".

While last years XFM Winter Wonderland lacked something they seem to have excelled themselves this year

Alex McCann

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