Rob Crow


Something which has never happened in the history of live music is happening: a gig is running early. Yes, early.

This means that we miss a couple of Minna‘s early offerings, but they make a tremendous racket. Information is non-existent on the presumably local trio, the drummer in a constant whirr while his face contorts as though he’s having his elbows pulled out of their sockets.

The bassist is as dexterous as Frankie Boyle’s mouth is filthy, and the whole shebang holds together like a slightly less frantic Tera Melos.

“We’ve got an Instagram” insists the frontman before their final track, but good luck finding it.

Also running earlier than advertised are Sweet Deals On Surgery, whose quickfire bursts of choppy punk tunes were a good match on paper, but sadly fall flat on the occasion.

Guitarist/vocalist, Robot Alien (hopefully his real name) does his best to inject some enthusiasm, but his moth-like boinging while away from the mic leads him perilously close to the stage steps and what could’ve been a nastily turned ankle. The worry in the venue is palpable.

They have their moments: old favourite ‘Elvis Costello Is Wanker’ jogs along on ‘Pump It Up”s upcycled riff during the second song, while ‘Take My Hand, Punch Me In The Face’ at the other end finally sees them hit their stride, but it’s ultimately not enough.

As far as anyone can tell, we’re a couple of months off a full decade since Rob Crow last appeared on stage in Manchester, when Pinback played at The Roadhouse back in November 2007.

“Didn’t they play the Academy 2 or summat?” I ask my Pinback obsessive gig companion.
“I think you’re seriously over-estimating their popularity there.” he replies with a look of astonishment all over his newly-bearded face.

For the uninitiated, as well as Pinback, Rob Crow is the distinctive voice and driving force behind at least a thousand other projects, with a sprawling back catalogue that is practically impossible to fully delve into.

As you’d expect of someone so prolific, he has a small army of devotees, with Kavus Torabi (of Cardiacs, Gong and Knifeworld fame among others) the UK’s chief Crowologist for 20-odd years and guitarist for this short tour. He’s assembled a crack dream team of a backing band, with members of Scritti Politti, North Sea Radio Orchestra, and most importantly for us Mancunians, Frank Sidebottom’s old drummer in tow.

Rob’s voice is clearly punctured hoarse from the off, but ‘Oh, The Sadmakers’ is as fantastic a lead song live as it is on his You’re Doomed. Be Nice. album, galloping along at a fair clip before pulling back into a riff which wouldn’t be out of place on one of his Goblin Cock albums.

A man of few words, each track flows into the next as though it’s a continuous composition, and pulls off the trick of making what sounds simple being surprisingly complex. Fingers busily traverse fretboards as arpeggios are plucked with alacrity, but it’s a slightly ponderous few songs which follow the opener.

That said, considering Rob only met his band for the first time at the tail end of last week, and their only other gig was at Tim Smith’s house in Wiltshire last night, they don’t skip a beat or miss a note. It’s a remarkable achievement.

Heads soon start bobbing and the odd knee starts to bend as we progress – ‘Rest Your Soul’ and ‘Business Interruptus’ are other highlights from the Gloomy Place LP, and then we’re off into Crow Completists Corner, thumbing through rarely heard gems from his extensive cupboard.

‘Oar’ from Optiganally Yours is a subtle epic, ‘Strapped’ from the Other Men album sees Rob temporarily take to the bass, while ‘Song For Wesley’ is a bona fide Heavy Vegetable classic and one of those brilliant “well, I never thought I’d ever seen that happen” moments.

Munching his way through what must be an entire pack of throat lozenges, it’s a heroic effort to make it through to the end of a mammoth 26 song set, which is underlined by a wonderful cover of the Cardiacs’ ‘A Little Man And A House’ as we’re sent on our way.

It was a performance which threatened to get away from them at times, but Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place brightened Manchester tonight.

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