The Eagle Inn might be Manchester/Salford’s most informal gig venue. Tonight, the landlady rings a bell when it’s time for the first act to take the stage, and the hundred or so folks in the building grab their drinks and head to the back room where the magic happens. Throughout the night, the distinction between performer and audience is blurred, with exchanges between songs closer to natural human conversation than the usual dreaded banter.

The room may be small but it couldn’t be fuller for the arrival of Meursault, the moniker of Edinburgh musician Neil Pennycook. Over the years, Meursault has been a band including as many as seven people, but tonight Neil is flying solo, and the night’s setlist revolves predominantly around the sumptuous new album I Will Kill Again, also ostensibly a Pennycook solo project. He explodes into action with a paralysing version of ‘Ode to Gremlin’ – on record a stately, sorrowful tune with a haunting piano arrangement, but tonight a primal scream, Neil’s lacerating voice tearing through the room. The closing mantra of “the last thing the world needs now is another song about the fucking sea” is suddenly a desperate cry rather than a nod and a wink.

Neil is dynamite with his crowd interactions – he makes friends with an affable bloke named Owen at the front early on, and by the end Owen gets his own crowd chant. Neil also explains early on that this will be an awkward show, with no songs quiet OR loud enough for us to talk during, and he cheerfully admits that he’s the “asshole songwriter” that’s to blame for that. He is also, however, quick to praise this as the best show he’s ever played in Manchester.

Older songs such as ‘New Boy’ continue the night’s theme of stripping away the superfluous elements of Meursault’s recorded output and channelling Neil’s instinctive emotional power. Where I Will Kill Again finds expanse through stunningly understated arrangements, live the expanse comes from the sheer size of Neil’s voice. An intriguing song named ‘Lament for Nakhla Dog’, about the apparently real story of a dog that was struck by a meteorite, demonstrates Neil’s facility for finding the profound and eternal in seemingly innocuous and humorous places too. This marriage of writing and performance styles calls to mind Mark Kozelek or Phil Elverum, a high pedestal indeed.

As he kicks into the new album’s title track near the end of the show, he breaks himself off to chastise a crowd member for having the gall to walk out of the room. “You’ll be first on the list” is not what you want to hear from a guy in the middle of singing ‘I Will Kill Again’. The song appears to possess Neil, at one stage throwing down his guitar and charging down off the stage, through the crowd, up the stairs to the small balcony, all the while keeping the song alive. By the time he is leaning perilously far over the balcony above us, he screams “thank you and goodnight”, a surprising, albeit too soon, climax to a viscerally enjoyable night.

Lucky for us, we are gifted with one more number. The track ‘Simple Is Good’ is named after a quote from Jim Henson, who is something of a hero to Neil. As tonight’s send off, it captures what makes Meursault a little special: a flair for finding the poetic in the everyday, converting a wise observation into a beautiful artistic statement.

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Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.