Alpines – Soup Kitchen, Manchester – 17/02/17

As an ancient smoke machine with emphysema belches out from behind the bar, competing with numerous e-cigs that reduce visibility to below what is required for a safe landing, Alpines take the stage.

There is a professionalism about the way they do it, at odds with the way some bands approach Soup Kitchen gigs, with singer Catherine Pockson, fitted out in an impressive business suit complemented by six-inch platforms, timing her entrance to match perfectly the introductory notes to opening song Completely. But having supported the likes of Emeli Sandé and Florence and the Machine, such professionalism is only to be expected.

The enthusiastic crowd is, strangely, stood well back from the stage and has to be encouraged to move forward, with the exception of one tipsy guy, who loudly professes his love for Catherine, the band and everyone else from the word go. But breaking the strip club rule of ‘look, don’t touch,’ eventually, lover boy is escorted from the premises, ironically during the song ‘Stay.’

Alpines are guitarist and producer Bob Matthews and singer/songwriter/pianist Catherine and tonight the instrumentation is two sets of keyboards and drums.  The set comprises mainly tracks from their latest album Another River, with several from debut album Oasis (2014) thrown in for good measure.

It is a ‘safe’ set, by which I mean most of the songs comfortably fit the soul/R&B format for which they are best known. But there is much more to Alpines than that. It is difficult accurately to allocate a single one, or any combination of, ‘genres’ to them. The only thing you can say for sure is that they don’t do punk or rap. During Motionless for example, which is a sort of slow soulful ballad, Catherine hits high notes that I honestly didn’t expect she would in a live show. It was a great shame that the timing of the song corresponded to the late arrival of a large group who headed noisily straight to the bar.

As good and tight as the band is, it is Catherine who grabs your attention throughout the performance. Her vocal range embraces the likes of Adele and Ingrid Helene Håvik and visually she is even a mash-up of the two.

If you need an example of their diversification, look for example to encore song ‘No Other Lover’ (see the bottom of this post), with its synth-pop overtones or the Banks-ish Cocoon.

Which leads me on to my only disappointment of the night, apart from the fact that the usually chatty Catherine isn’t quite so talkative on stage. I’d like to know a little about the songs and how they came about. No, my biggest gripe is that they didn’t play ‘How it Hurts’, from Another River. Speaking with Catherine after the show she told me how she’d debated with her mum about whether she should perform it. Well, mum knows best, but she opted not to because she feels she needs a grand piano to do so and there wouldn’t be much room on a small stage for anything else if there was. Apart from that, lugging something like that up and down the motorways probably wouldn’t be much fun.

To cut to the chase I think that song is sensational and even if it is only February the best one I’ve heard so far this year. The arrangement is terrific (kudos to Bob Matthews).  As she says, the song is very much “from the heart.”

Alpines really need and deserve a bigger venue and I hope they’ll be back this way soon. With a grand piano.

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