Photo: Peter Rea

Photo: Peter Rea


Lamb were arguably at their peak when I was most impressionable, blending genres that I was immersed in at the time – trip-hop and drum & bass. 22 years ago, Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow agreed to start a band, in a bar on Manchester’s Oldham street – they made their first tunes on a 4 track in a basement in West Didsbury, and then moved to a bigger house with a studio after getting signed. Now, they return to the city for the penultimate date of their 6th album tour.

They start as on the new album Backspace Unwind, with ‘In Binary’; a gentle 4/4 beat supports emotional/cosmic related lyrics over a minimal ethereal electro soundscape. Two decades ago, Andy would’ve chopped and rearranged these samples to create a musical conundrum with a dizzying time signature, leaving Lou with the enviable task of supplying the words and harmonies, creating a fine balance between beauty and chaos. The results were unique and exceptional, but the new stripped down material also works very nicely indeed.

Lou looks magnificent, dressed (as Andy puts it) like a cross between Princess Leia and Twiggy. She  reveals that as well as being thrilled to return to Manchester, it’s her birthday today – a spontaneous chorus of Happy Birthday fills the hall. It’s pretty much sold out tonight, any response from the crowd bounces of the walls and is amplified. I can’t remember hearing applause at such a volume. Local friends and family sit behind the band in the horseshoe balcony, close enough to pass messages of support to the performers who are clearly loving the occasion.

New single ‘We Fall In Love’ is in the same vein as the first of tonight’s tunes; using a stronger beat, it gently builds the atmosphere nicely. I’ve not had much time to familiarise myself with the new album but this experience is a great advert. Strong white lights pierce the dark air from behind the band, highlighting the craftsmanship of this fantastic venue on the ceiling and walls. Lifelong collaborator Jon Thorne is the third member onstage, hopping enthusiastically with his bass due to a fall at their gig in Brighton, where the snapped his achilles tendon. There’s no way he’s going to let an excruciatingly painful injury hamper his experience here tonight.

I’m guessing most present are keen to hear from Lamb’s impressive back catalogue. ‘Little Things’ gives us a first taste – the drum and bass beat kicks in, instantly causing a stir and prompting Andy to move from behind his station to goad the crowd into a frenzy. ‘As Satellites Go By’ follows; a gentle piano and that hypnotic voice mesmerise the attentive audience. The chorus is enhanced by strings and 3 mirrorballs. People are actually heard Ooing.

Other new songs are showcased, and I’m growing eager to hear more of my past favourites – until, that is, they play a couple of outstanding ballads. ‘What Makes Us Human’ and ‘Doves and Ravens’ prove to be an unexpected highlight, raising the hairs on the back of the neck. Epic classic ‘Gabriel’ has the power to deeply effect my mood after only the first line. Thankfully, this live rendition doesn’t disappoint whatsoever. New tune ‘Nobody Else’ changes tack, with a bluesy vocal from Lou over a plodding lazy beat that carries the right amount of subtle electronic trickery. Stunning.

Of course there’s an encore. To save poor Jon from hopping up and down those stairs, maybe he should just lie on the ground and hide for a bit? Another crowd favourite ‘What Sound’ is enhanced with heavy drumming from the duo. ‘God Bless’ is superb – quiet and serene, and then exhilarating… I’m trying to refrain from gushing about how much I like their work, and have done so for such a long time. When the beat pauses for a moment and the bass comes in… just, wow. Oh, and then they play ‘Gorecki’. The lyrics weren’t meant to be portrayed in this context, but they seem appropriate for tonight “All I’ve known, all I’ve done, all I’ve felt was leading to this”.

There’s another encore. Poor Jon. ‘Trans Fatty Acid’ proves to be a superb finale – a deep groove eventually rises to a crescendo with Lou shredding a guitar as Andy slowly cranks up the acid tweeks until they can ascend no further. The bassist IS on the floor, and he’s still playing.

Favourites from the archive were superbly recreated tonight, meeting high expectations, and the slower tunes from the unfamiliar new album proved to be exceptional. The crowd made incredible amounts of noise and the band seemed to love every minute of it. It’s been too long, but it really was worth the wait.

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Peter Rea

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