nypc-hard-knocks– NIGHT & DAY CAFE, MANCHESTER – 

I arrive at Night & Day on Manchester’s trendy Oldham Street wondering why one of my favourite bands and 2007 Barclaycard Mercury Prize nominees are playing a small venue normally reserved for up and coming bands. It turns out this is a warm up before the release of their new album later this year but I’m not sure it has been marketed as such and so it’s disappointing to see that the room isn’t sold out.

Performance wise a lot of it is bang on the money but this being the first time I’ve seen them live I reluctantly identify two flaws. One, there’s not enough charisma in this now two-piece (plus hired bucket banger) and with both the drummer and the multi-instrumentalist, Andy Spence, relatively absent in the charms stakes, it all seems to hang on the lead singer, Tahita Bulmer. Two, as a result when she’s on song it’s great, when she’s not, it’s a bit limp. Her performance at times is beguiling and bewitching but it’s not consistently so as the enthusiasm for some of the older material isn’t always there. Plus vocally she’s great in the mid to low notes but on the head notes she struggles and it does her a disservice. Why these songs are not done in the appropriate key for her voice mystifies me.

The gig kicks off on well-known turf with two fan favourites ‘Chaos’ and ‘Hiding on The Staircase’ and both are warmly if reservedly received by the relatively small but partisan crowd. The latter is the first to highlight the pitching issues and not the last but both tracks are sufficiently brilliant to still deliver.

New number ‘Sure as the Sun’ is much better as I think it feels newer for them. It’s obvious to anyone now that Bulmer is a strutting, sultry, and skulking presence and is more than capable of turning this band into a dynamic highly listenable and watchable force all on her own.

Next we’re back into familiar territory with ‘Oh Cherie’ and here the vocals are powerful and heartfelt and frankly, fantastic. Clearly Bulmer is enjoying herself much more now as she’s way more animated and even plays around without with a falsetto bit which ironically given the above, was pulled off with aplomb.

Another new ditty in the form of ‘Your Gun’ is a winner methinks. More keyboards than guitar this time, and with mid tempo music  but slow vocals. This is more heartfelt than some of the previous offerings but when she obviously feels the lyrics she she’s at her best and at the conclusion a big cheer goes up.

Throughout most of the set the atmosphere has been kind of average but ‘Your Gun’ is pinging the bass out so hard the hair on my forearms is vibrating. Bulmer is really getting into it now with her boldest dance moves to this point. This is accompanied by more oomph in the voice but it loses a little quality as a result. Nevertheless with the bass kabooming through the room it feels more like a gig that at any point so far and at the end crowd is the most appreciative yet.

Back on to more familiar ground with ‘The Bomb’, ‘We Want To’ and the final number ‘Chaos’ all of which are suitably rabble rousing. Hence the band and crowd leave on a peak, as does this reviewer.