Lord Huron – O2 Ritz, Manchester – 19/01/18

Pictures by Iain Fox

I thought Lord Huron were my own little secret. 2013s Lonesome Dreams established their melodic brand of rustic Americana and this was followed in 2015 by Strange Trails, which built upon this label with an innovative new batch of evocative and organic songs full of mystique, wonder and a little bit of darkness!

The band have travelled to Manchester twice in this time, performing at the Deaf Institute and most recently at Gorilla. This evening’s show was scheduled at the same venue but it seems that my secret is out because they’ve been bumped up to the Ritz due to a demand that demonstrates the enigmatic grip of their elegant and irresistible songs. Indeed, the demographic this evening is fascinatingly diverse and a million miles from the stereotype one unfairly imagines based on that rustic Americana label. This band from California have transcended these generic barriers and, inspired by songwriter and lead singer Ben Schneider’s love of nature, art and curiously, Alternate Reality Games, are forging towards new musical frontiers that are clearly resonating with the open-minded folk of Manchester. We have all been beguiled by their esoteric brilliance on record and we have flocked to this evening’s show in anticipation of their brilliance on this larger musical canvas and boy, do they deliver!

There is a mystical nature to tonight’s show which emerges as the lights drop to a vivid red and the band slowly take their place before us. A large LED gemstone, it’s colour modulating depending on the mood of the song, shines brightly at the back of the stage and this is augmented by crackling fires, hooting owls and a mysterious wind, blowing through leafy trees that gently introduces several of the tracks. The band have thankfully dispensed with any banal chat, which can often seem forced, instead relying on the organic nature of their song’s introductions to drive the narrative of the evening.

Although there is no recent album to plug, we are treated to new songs at different stages of the show which hint at a heavier, spikier direction perhaps, with material occasionally appropriating the cadence of bands like The Stranglers. Whilst I have no doubt that in time these new songs and any forthcoming album which they appear on will ultimately have the same kind of mesmeric hold on us all, it is the epic vistas of the older tracks that enthral the most tonight. Despite the familiarity of these songs, there is still a freshness to every track; performing as a six-piece this evening certainly ensures that the complexity of their compositions on record is not diminished and although Schneider is the energetic focal point throughout, there is always something fascinating going on elsewhere on the stage. As the tapestry unfurls, Mark Barry on drums is octopus-like in his ability to construct the band’s diverse percussive lines and Tom Renaud’s guitar face appears as a permanent smile as he adds vital incisions to Schneider’s acoustic melodies. The joy is certainly infectious.

The glorious ‘Way Out There’ is one of these fascinating moments and a highlight of the entire evening. During the song’s intro, bassist Miguel Briseño demonstrates his magic on that most alluring of instruments, the Theremin. Weaving together the song’s plaintive notes with the expressive hand gestures of a snake charmer, Briseño creates a sombre electronic base for Schneider’s evocative lyrics and it is just one of the many hypnotic moments throughout the evening that has the Ritz completely and utterly enthralled. Lord Huron certainly provide an alchemy that has bewitched Manchester this evening and there’s no way that can remain a secret.