The Barr Brothers – The Castle Hotel, Manchester – 23/10/14

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The Barr Brothers are a band that I’ve not long been introduced to.  A few months back I received an email that was pointing me in the direction of their track, ‘Half Crazy’, from the then forthcoming album Sleeping Operator.  The track immediately grabbed my attention and they became a band that I wanted to know more about.  The group are a four piece hailing from Montreal (a city full of great bands it would seem) and consist of brothers Brad (vocal, guitar) and Andrew Barr (drums), Sarah Page (harp) and Andres Vial (double bass).

This was my first visit to The Castle Hotel venue and my first impressions were great.  It’s located just up the road from the Night & Day cafe and from the outside appears to a quaint little pub.  Go past the bar and slightly down a small corridor however and you’ll find a cosy little room with a ceiling that is reminiscent of one you may find in a small church.  It was in here in which tonight’s performance would take place.  The stage was so small in fact that Brad’s pedal board was located on top of a milk crate placed just in front of the stage.  It didn’t help that the group had brought around twenty or so different instruments with them, including a huge wooden harp which took up a good portion of the space.  “If I’d grown up living in Manchester, I feel like this is the place that I’d have brought my demo’s to try and get weekly gigs”, Brad mentioned when speaking about the venue later on in the evening.

Support on the night came from a solo artist named Joe Grass, who also joined The Barr Brothers on the pedal steel guitar when it came around to their set.  He was very easy to listen to and was quite the guitar player.  I didn’t catch the name of the third track but it involved a bit of setting up, some strange chords being played and was interesting to watch.  The highlight of his short five track set.

When the time came for The Barr Brothers to take to the stage, the room was full to bursting.  They began with the track ‘How the Heroine Dies’ and it was immediately apparent that the sound for the evening was going to be as good as it gets.  Each individual pluck of the harp could be heard immaculately and everything just came together nicely within the room.  I mentioned earlier how the band had brought a lot of different instruments with them and it was during the next song that some of the more stranger ones were used.  ‘Static Orphans’ saw the use of one of those old school wind tube things that gets swung around in the air, as well as a violin bow being played on the spokes of a bicycle wheel to generate some of the more interesting sounds.

The set was in large made up of tracks from the latest release.  ‘Love Ain’t Enough’ was followed by ‘Even the Darkness Has Arms’ and both were big highlights of the night.  ‘Half Crazy’ got the room moving and ‘Come In the Water’ was a great example of a seven minute track managing to keep an entire rooms attention.  A track that I absolutely adored.  It was after this song that we were informed that the band were no longer working off a setlist and were just going along as they wanted.  One of the audience used this opportunity to call for ‘Let There Be Horses’, the final number on the debut album, with which they duly obliged.

As the band couldn’t actually get off the stage to do the whole ‘encore’ charade, they gathered in a group to decide on what their final song would be.  They decided, retook their places, and ended with an awesome rendition of England (fitting, really) from Sleeping Operator before thanking the venue and reminding everyone that they would be back in January at The Deaf Institute.

The Barr Brothers actually really surprised me tonight.  I expected to enjoy it but for there to be a bit of a lull during their longer numbers.  The band actually mixed it up in these moments however and the jam’s that took place were fascinating to observe. I managed to get a few minutes with Brad after the show and he’s a really nice guy.  There should be a feature with the band that will follow after the show in January.

The Barr Brothers at Deaf Institute on Jan 25th tickets can be bought here – http://www.seetickets.com/event/the-barr-brothers/the-deaf-institute/822334

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