tumblr_n04lc0VvWQ1qdl86po1_500– SOUP KITCHEN, MANCHESTER –

Almost 3 years since I saw them play The Ruby Lounge, Wye Oak return to Manchester with a whole new albums worth of tunes to blend into their set. Despite the extra depth in the sound that runs through ‘Shriek’, the  band continue as a duo – Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner from Baltimore.

Bacherlorette support – New Zealand’s Annabel Alpers, with her sidekick ‘Ableton’ trigger dark synth pop loops, shaking the floor with the bass and rattling the glasses with piercing bleeps and tweaks. Monochrome geometric shapes morph organically in time through a projection that covers her face as she sings. It’s like a collaboration between The Knife and Broadcast. The impressive set ends with Annabel introducing Wye Oak as the friendliest people she’s ever had the pleasure to share a bus with.

Andy has been allowed free-reign over the smoke machine tonight. Jenn watches on in amusement as he “mystifies” the right side of the stage, around his drum kit, with a burst of temporary fog. Synth heavy ‘Before’ starts the set, with Jenn adding a funky two-note baseline as she sings in a crystal clear, world-weary manor. An excellent version of personal favourite ‘The Tower’ follows – a grimy distorted baseline breaks through the sonic 80’s key-stabs, offering a glimpse of their work on the much rockier 2011 album ‘Civilian’.

“This is the coolest dungeon I’ve ever played in”. After the title track from the latest album, Jenn switches to her 6 string and blasts the pretty much full venue with the hits that gave them their break (and were featured on various TV programmes). It’s almost as though a different band has taken over. ‘Holy Holy’ rings out with it’s spiralling siren-esque strumming and contrasting cool and tender lyrics.

Another favourite from the new album ‘Sick Talk’ displays how their sound has matured. The slow groove and unpredictable song structure is most refreshing and uplifting. They see-saw from old to new, switching instruments and getting in a tangle while almost injuring each other as they play on the narrow stage.

For the encore, they cover Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ and treat us to the anthemic ‘Civilian’. As we’ve apparently ticked all the boxes as a great crowd (the applause throughout belied the headcount), Jenn finishes with ‘Doubt’ as a reward – performed alone with just her guitar. Not a neck-hair in the building is left dormant.

… and so their journey continues. Where next for Wye Oak? How many more instruments can they play, and will fit on the stage? Whatever they do it seems to work spectacularly, and time spent in their company is a great investment.

Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.