Air Cav / Driver Drive Faster – Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, Manchester 19/12/09

Later, the spirit of Mrs Gaskell is invoked as well as other more sinister things - such as beards and Chorlton.



It’s snowing and most of Manchester seems to be reeling around the German Christmas market on Albert Square in a state of advanced intoxication. Incendiary have no time for such revelries. Having got into the UK but a few hours before, the race was onto get to the Unitarian chapel on Cross Street, in order to witness Manchester’s Air Cav perform what could only be described as a very special Christmas gig…

Cross Street chapel is a new, stylish building replete with all mod cons, including - for one evening only - a bar stocked to the gills with… …Belgian beer. It seems that Incendiary can’t escape the continent just yet. Still, very pleasant (sometimes strident) conversation is made with members of the ‘Cav, who all seem remarkably chipper and hold no grudges towards Incendiary for a truly mad-cap dash round Holland’s squat venue scene earlier in the Spring.

Soon, scarves and coats are being hung up, beards smoothed, Duvel and Leffe gulped and seats requisitioned. The crowd, ever so slightly uncomfortable with sitting in a chapel for a gig, prepare themselves for the evening’s service. First up is Driver Drive Faster, who has been someone before, but no matter. This outfit consists of four hirsute blokes who have a very nice take on reflective, groovy but very melodic rock with a seventies twist. Maybe it could be the keyboards, maybe it’s the some of the song structures – bits of Don’t Fall Over or It’s All Over are reminiscent of the thick stew that Can cooked up round Landed or Flow Motion. Or maybe it could be the singer’s wavering voice which has a definite feel of seventies West Coast melancholy to it. After a while warming up, the audience begins to take to this understated presence before them, and mild polite clapping ensues… (It’s amazing what happens to hipsters in places of worship). A quiet triumph, I’d say.

Oh, did I not mention the lamps yet? Some kind soul has arranged some lamps (by the looks of them from popular high-street chain Argos) at the front of the stage, and by gum they don’t half go well with the psychedelic projections that appear; UFO club-style, behind the bands. Somehow the lamps accentuate the sense of occasion and expectancy as Air Cav shuffle onstage and proceed to crank out their noise.

Air Cav are going places artistically, there’s a strength and an ease inherent in their songs that suggests a confidence to keep saying things simply and directly, a knack few bands possess, or dare to explore. Even the nature of the gig (slightly quiet, may I say like a displaced carol service?), and the venue (for my money the band looks better in dark clubs with low ceilings where their rumble flattens you into submission), fail to chain their powerful air of offbeat charm and scraggy simplicity.

One benefit of staging your own show, of course, is having the luxury of developing the set at your own pace and pushing the songs you feel need the space and time to develop. This is a trick card that Air Cav exploits on this evening, as their song writing is the thing about them that always hits home the most; they are just so damned catchy. Put it this way, they could busk outside Greggs and have people dancing, such is their heady muse. The new songs sound tremendous, quicksilver in tone and shape. Goodness only knows what they are called… They melt away leaving only a feeling of frustration in not capturing their essence. Favourites are left till late rather than pinned at the front of the set: Alliance is its usual strident, robust self, whereas Embers and Call To Arms ring out like sentinels of the new dawn.

All too soon it’s over. Good do? Grand do, all told.

Later, during wild scenes of disarray, the spirit of Mrs Gaskell (wife to the preacher here back in the 1840s) is invoked as well as other more sinister things - such as beards and Chorlton. Chips, silly talk and a moonlight walk complete a perfect evening.