Mono are in Manchester as part of their 2011 European Tour and following their stop in London two days prior for an extra special performance of the ‘Holy Ground’ concert, originally performed in New York in 2009 to celebrate the band’s ten year anniversary, accompanied by the 24-piece Wordless Music Orchestra. So we, like the rest of Europe’s cities which aren’t London, get none of the pomp and grandeur of an entire orchestra as backing, and have to make do with brass tacks, no nonsense, classic Mono. This is Taka Goto and Yoda on electric guitars; Tamaki on bass and piano; and Yasunori Takada on drums, and all of them also have a tinkle on the post-rock instrument of choice that is the glockenspiel.

Well good I say. I love Mono – they’re probably one of my favourite bands lumped under the term ‘post-rock’ – but playing with orchestras sort of rankles with me, it has too many connotations with nauseatingly excessive prog rock. Mono’s music has always been based in quite complex classical arrangements even when playing as a four piece however (they only introduced orchestras on their last studio album Hymn To The Immortal Wind), so given their background I am guessing the ‘Holy Ground’ live set-up is done with the best of intentions. On the basis of tonight’s show, however, Mono make a grand enough noise as they are, and, despite having never seen the orchestral show live, you wonder how it can be considered such a big deal….

Half the set (four songs) are drawn from ‘Hymn For The Immortal Wind’ and all songs primarily stick to the oft derided post-rock template of quiet-loud-quiet. Why this is so derided I don’t really know. It’s all about emotional tension and release that works fine with rollercoasters and horror films, but with music is scoffed at as cliché and formulaic.

More often than not Mono are going to start off quiet, sweetly draw you in with a delicate minor-key melodic pattern underlain with skittering drums and swelling gentle bass, then things are going to stir and bubble like a thickening stew of sound, reiterated and reconfigured in slightly heavier guises until it all pops and a torrent of volume and dissonance is unleashed. It’s totally cathartic and bracing and Mono seems to be able to do it really beautifully and with enough subtle touching differences each time for it to remain something that bears repeat listening.

Back to the gig though, and knowing that Mono LPs are primarily recorded live suggests to me that their skill honed by working this way is making their live sound seems almost too clean (this could also be down to the apparently flash mixing board installed at Sound Control. Or both). It’s a long way from the syrupy whirlwind of noise which some other bands of a similar ilk suffer from when playing live, but it possibly veers a little too close to slick for a band rooted outside the mainstream. Each element is clear and is sensitively apportioned for both the louder and quieter elements though, which is nice. I notice five chaps at the soundboard at different points throughout the night, so with that level of attention it’s to be expected really.

The standout song tonight is ‘Pure As Snow’. Mono often has one track on each album which seems like its centrepiece. It’s not radically different to the rest of the album; it just does it for you more than all the others. This is their most recent example of such a track and live it is rendered incredibly powerfully, ten minutes of pure Mono aesthetic. I also like it because here they sound most open; it’s the point at which they are most exposed as a band. It’s hard to explain, but it links back to the cleanliness of the sound, it’s on this track you realise you are really stood in front of four musicians sculpting this colossal beast of sound right before you.

‘Sabbath’ and ‘Halo’ from the 2002 album One More Step and You Die and ‘Yearning’ and ‘Moonlight’ from 2006’s You Are There I recognise as forming the remainder of the set. With such lengthy tracks it’s understandable that not everyone will get what are necessarily their absolute favourites (‘Com(?)’; ‘16.12’; and ‘Jackie Says’ for me), but ‘Sabbath’ is particularly lush and understated when played live, foregoing any loud bits for one long reverb heavy glide. ‘Moonlight’ is also an excellent closing track, the band really letting rip on this, twisting and contorting around their instruments, faces shrouded in hair. The extremes of sound and dynamic seem even more extreme at the finale.

Before you know it the swirling sound still rings but guitars have been set down and Mono give a simple show of thanks and leave the stage. No orchestras required tonight therefore. Again, I am sure that it adds something special to the Mono live experience, but on tonight’s evidence I really am struggling to see what that could be. I need to actually see it and that might shut me up.

One final thing for the uninitiated, first time for me in Sound Control and as a venue it’s alright. There are cooling jets from air conditioners at the walls so it doesn’t become a total sweat-box and my genuine appreciation of this makes me realise that youth is finally gone….