Gignorance: The Garden – Soup Kitchen, Manchester – 21/03/17

Gignorance is a feature that looks to shake up the traditional gig review by sending writers to a show without revealing who they’re actually seeing.

The concept of being sent to review a gig without being told the identity of the artist in question, whilst inherently terrifying, is a welcome boost. It is a reminder to keep an open mind, to be perpetually ready for any and every possible experience to hit you in a fresh and surprising way. It frees you of any baggage, so that when you walk into that room on that night, everything is unexpected. I really can recommend it.

 

What you will find, though, is despite harbouring an infinite gallery of possibilities beforehand, the spectrum immediately begins to narrow from the very moment you step foot into the venue. On this occasion, upon descending the Soup Kitchen staircase, I was plunged into a strikingly teenage gaggle. Bright clothes, bright hair, bright eyes; optimistic and enthusiastic. With the greatest will in the world, it is not, in my experience, the default position of the Soup Kitchen. It is also jam packed. These are positive signs, I tell myself, determined to resist the temptation to decide anything about The Garden just by their audience.

 

I confess that I knew very little about the Orange County, California band beforehand, but I did know that they were twins (Wyatt and Fletcher Shears). I certainly didn’t have an image of them in my head, and I couldn’t possibly have got it right if I guessed. When they burst on stage, Wyatt adorns a communist red beret and a sloganeering armband, whilst his brother Fletcher is clad in a puffed leather jacket, if such a thing is possible, and Brylcreem-ed hair – they seem to be channelling very different 1950s traditions.

 

Fletcher fires off a programmed tune on his drum machine, and the pair launch into a free fire punk-rap tirade, the relative confines of the Soup Kitchen stage not nearly enough to contain them. The crowd are immediately electrified, pogoing as one, those at the front already clambering to get on stage. All the while, Fletcher can do little but jump off the stage, diving at least four times in the first two tracks.

 

Those two openers do not accurately predict the show. The aggressive, millennial-Beastie Boys tone of those tracks is changed somewhat when Fletcher assumes his place behind the drumkit and Wyatt grabs his bass. Their music is studiously designed to defy categorisation – indeed, they have coined their own term for it, ‘vada vada’, which is emblazoned on a banner hanging at the back of the stage. Clearly, the biggest touchstone though is hardcore punk, with their fellow native Californians Black Flag and Social Distortion coming to mind.

 

Wyatt’s basslines are taut and twangy, bearing the admittedly limited melodic responsibility of their songs. Fletcher’s drums are manic and adrenalized, almost never dropping to even a headbang-along-able pace. Wyatt’s vocals are shouted, often in mantras, and lest we be in any doubt that hundreds of the assembled know them better than he does, he frequently hands them the mic to finish his lines.

 

They barrel through tracks from both of their studio albums, The Life and Times of a Paperclip and Haha, with ‘All Smiles Over Here :)’ and ‘I’m a Woman’ particularly capturing their restless, short attention span, witty, take-no-prisoners essence. Their current release, this month’s U Want the Scoop? EP, gets a full outing, and equal adoration from this most appreciative of crowds.

 

Barely a track passes by without somebody skipping onto stage and taking the dive off, although the hit to miss record for crowdsurfing leaves something to the imagination. When the brothers Shears conclude the main set, the stage fills with a dozen or so revellers, awkwardly shuffled off by a lone security guy. The band do return – in Fletcher’s case, literally with a somersault – and polish off a final brace of breakneck agitprop screamers before vanishing for good this time.

 

As a deliberate newcomer to the band, I leave tonight simultaneously stunned and comforted by the exuberance and love from the crowd. In dozens of visits to the Soup Kitchen, I can honestly say that I have never seen so much energy in the room, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there were a couple of fainters in there. I get the sense that for a few, this will prove to be an early, formative live music experience – an initial high that they spend a long time chasing at other shows. On my exit, I overhear two separate parties proclaiming it to be the best gig they’ve been to, and what more can a band aim for than that.

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