By the end of their short five song opening set, South Dublin’s Princess have sensed, stalked and snared an initially passive Manchester crowd.  Ostensibly a two piece recording project, tonight Liam and Aoife are supplemented by a full band and are now equipped with the artillery to deliver.  Their approach is simple and effective. Looking for an epic sound, they trade in walls of atmosphere, pierced by shards of guitar, one second throwing golden sparks of light on us, the next hammering us like dark welding tools.  While they would profess to writing traditional verse chorus structure, there is so much craft and thought in their treatment of their songs, they deconstruct then build them anew. Each bar and phrase stretches, shifts and confounds, is seldom repeated, and the songs draw our increasing attention through a constant ebb and flow.

Clearly perfectionists – lengthy pauses between songs are testament to use of alternative tunings and each song having it’s specific effect settings – each reverberating pluck of the strings, each precisely delivered, echo swamped line, every casually dropped sample is poised to impress.  ‘And Leaving’ sets the scene with a pounding mechanistic drive over which a swirling, mesh of textures are unleashed: there are delicate west coast moments, then a mess of raspy hardcore to confound and challenge: ‘Emergency Orange Cabinet’ sees a swap of vocal duties to Aoife, whose dramatic tone threads sinew through another multi-textured sheet of sound.  ‘Black Window’ and ‘Spitting’ in your sleep are dispatched with aplomb, and these are the stand-outs:  Stop-start dynamics and the vocal breakdown at the end of ‘Window’ speak to a confidence about this band, and a level of musical elegance and eloquence that will sustain their interest where others fail. A year from now they’ll be writing classics, and they know it…already their ideas put them above the thousands of strumming nobodies who pack these islands.

Ex Hex

Ex Hex

For those wondering how Ex Hex would present their 35 minute garage rock debut RIPS in the live setting, fear not:  The album IS the live show.  Back to basics, lean power-pop with enough drive and pep to excite feelings of summer in the midst of an English winter, the album is no navel-gazing introspection and the live show is no studied dose of cool.  Laden with hook-lines and artfully stolen riffs (and a bassist who has mastered every rock and roll pose from Joan Jett to Mick Ronson) they are ’70s-style garage pop with more than a passing nod to the Go-Go’s or Jonathon Richman.

What does surprise me is the timidity and apparent reservation of lead Mary Timony.  There are a few dud notes and missed pedals to indicate a degree of nerves, but by the end of the set she is settled in her groove, and I see proof again of the power of live music to put us in another place.  Opening with their biggest hit ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’ shows a beautiful intent and simplicity of purpose, and Ex Hex deliver a fine show.  Theirs is a stripped back and uncomplicated sound and more engaging for this.  And it’s done with some humour, each guitar solo crotch pose throwing a knowing nod to the roots of this music. There are no weird chord progressions, no improvised fury, no intricate guitar matrix.  It’s simple rock an roll, with songs about school, boys and growing up.  And the thought of a song called ‘New Kid’ being sung with some feeling by a woman in her mid-forties? I don’t care if this is a late-in-life exorcism of some teenage trauma, or an unashamed appropriation of a rock cliché.  It’s great fun, and performed with knowing enthusiasm and spades of charm.

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