Sunday, September 04, 2011


Not being at End of the Road Festival this year, seeing one of the bands who are play the Brudenell Social Club was a minor consolation not to be missed. Especially when that band is North Carolina’s Megafaun who at last year’s Green Man turned in one of the most joyous, surprising and life-affirming live sets I’ve seen. No pressure on tonight to deliver then.

And I wasn’t the only one travelling over the Pennines on the M62: Manchester’s Blind Atlas were the first support band. Both supports this evening appear to have been booked only that morning (“we thought we’d be watching TV tonight”) but neither seemed fazed or flustered by the short-notice appointment. Blind Atlas, now a six piece live with violinist/backing vocalist Helen Temperley, played a confident, unrushed set of their classic Americana country-rock – no rockin’ out, no up-tempo '4th Street' tonight - but highlights included the primal pounding of ‘Ironwall’ and the yearning ache of ‘My Proud Mountains’. I’ve seen Blind Atlas several times in different scale venues in Manchester over the last three years or so; I was pleased to see them on this bill but even more pleased to see how comfortably and boldly they filled the Brudenell stage.

Another band who found out they were on bill only earlier today ("when I woke up this morning at 10.30am") was Invisible Cities. The instrumental four-piece - drums, bass, guitar and violin - combine the jauntiness of folk reels with math-rock – some occasional prog touches but there was more jazzy swing than cerebral noodling to their songs. The band via their drummer also had a good line in dead-pan humour about the meaning of their music and the plight of baby seals. It was only a four song set but didn’t feel meagre: an engaging and feisty support.

And so to Megafaun now expanded to a four-piece live with the addition of a bass player alongside brothers Phil and Brad Cook and drummer Joe Westerlund. It was a surprisingly thin crowd at the Brudenell tonight and they seemed a bit uncertain how to react to the band initially. Also the band took a few songs, after a hurried sound-check in front of the audience, to settle down: older songs like ‘Carolina Days’ and ‘Volunteers’ were assured but didn’t soar. However six songs in once the band started moving around the stage and swapping roles, everyone on- and off-stage seemed to loosen up and get the measure of each other. To me the precise moment of this shift was when drummer Joe took to guitar and mic for his own song ‘Second Friend’. Whether it was the McCartney-esque simplicity, the none-too-serious facial contortions of the harmony singers or the drummer’s endless beaming smile that caused the audience to melt I’m not sure, but melt they did.

The remainder of the set maintained the cosy vibe whilst demonstrating the versatility of the band; from “space jams” (‘Eagle’) to love-lorn ballads (‘The Longest Day’) from righteous and rowdy gospel (‘The Robe’) to jangly country tunes (‘Guns’ and ‘State/Meant’). It never threatened to turn into the infectious love-in that was Green Man 2010 but there were elements that came close: the masterful playing combined with a tongue-in-cheek geekiness, the humourous banter and evident enjoyment of making music and of course the non-stop, pleased-just-to-be-here grinning. By the end even the suspicious parts of the crowd were totally won over: loud calls for an encore (‘The Fade’) followed by an impromptu singalong of “You Are My Sunshine” then ‘Happy Birthday’ to the band’s tour manager led to an acapella ‘Worried Mind’ with the band at the edge of the stage and the audience pulled in close beneath them. A wonderful, joyous moment of unity.

Driving back and now writing this, the evening has only got better in my mind. I stupidly went expecting this evening to recreate a true one-off festival moment or to ‘compensate’ for not being at End of the Road which was unrealistic and a bit juvenile. Instead of looking back, I should have enjoyed the moment more. Of course tonight would not be that moment from thirteen months ago but it was still an able demonstration of what a generous, big-hearted and special band Megafaun are live.

The Set List:

Real Slow
Carolina Days
Get Right
Second Friend
The Longest Day
The Robe
The Fade
Worried Mind

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