Having been a huge fan of Halls’ ever since their debut single, Solace, I came to Soup Kitchen in Manchester tonight with high hopes and a particular hankering for a spot of blissed out, ambient 2-step. Upon entering the venue however, said hopes were subsequently dashed as I noticed the live drum kit that happened to be set up on stage. Normally this is the sort of thing that makes me wince my way through a whole gig. When producers try and perform their electronic music live through simple emulation of their released material performed paint-by-numbers style except with ‘real instruments’, I usually consider it to be an utterly pointless act that tends to detract from the overall quality of the music. Nothing new is really added whilst a huge range of carefully crafted timbres are brutally removed thanks to the sonic limitations of non-digital instruments. Needless to say, my heart was beginning to sink rapidly as a bassist and a guitarist emerged onstage to complete a full band set up for this evening’s performance.

But tonight, I take my hat off to Halls, because what 21 year old, Sam Howard manages to do here is pretty special. Instead of ruining his tracks for the sake of a live performance, he perfectly translates his glassy eyed, ultra-soft productions into engaging live band music. The low-key skittering drum loops are replaced with guns out and totally alive acoustic kicks and snares and Howard’s usual ghostly vocals are dried out and rendered perfectly comprehensible. As if Halls’ music has been sitting under water this whole time, it takes this live performance to fully make clear the secret melodies and nuances that the music really contains. It’s intriguing to hear, however, throughout the evening I can’t seem to escape the feeling that if I didn’t know what Halls’ music normally sounds like, I’d probably be slightly underwhelmed by tonight’s show. Howard’s commitment to transforming his sound here is admirable and something that’s definitely worth witnessing, but stumbling into this basement venue tonight with no prior exposure to Halls’ sound would possibly leave you with the false notion that this is just another indie outfit who bought a Microkorg and downloaded a cracked copy of Ableton Live. Nice, but not mind blowing.

All in all, Halls’ set tonight is a fairly short one for a headline act, yet, for its brief duration, this enjoyable reinterpretation of recorded material seems rightly to impress tonight’s somewhat thin on the ground audience. If anything’s for sure, Howard has left me with an urge to hear where he is going to try and push his live shows next, and if he’s playing anywhere near you, I highly recommend that you give his new album a listen and then head on down!

I'm Allan, I've had obsessive listening disorder since I was about 13 and now I write about music as a way of helping me cope with that.