Rumour has it, this is I Break Horses second (or maybe third) gig. Ever. It’s certainly their first gig in the UK. The debut album ‘Hearts’ gained many a rave review after it’s summer release. The Swedish pairing of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck have recruited 3 others to take their sound on the road. Wot God Forgot appear to have made something of a coup bringing them here so early on in their touring lives, and their efforts have paid off. The Soup Kitchen’s basement is full to capacity tonight and there’s a buzz about the room.

It’s boiling hot in here, loud conversations almost drown out the between-acts DJ, and the gentle beginnings of the first song of I Break Horses’ set haven’t been noticed over the din. The guitars start up from the low stage and slowly grab everyone’s attention, the male band members are all dressed in black with Maria wearing a red cloak, in the centre. The stage is very dark, apart from when a projection of mountains or drifting smoke shines over their faces and onto the back wall.

Their debut album is only 40 minutes long, they appear to be dragging this out a little bit by playing more slowly than expected. Maybe, a little too slow. The sound is a little muggy at the start too, but gets progressively better through the set. Maria’s vocal is difficult to hear at first, her whispered voice must be a sound engineers nightmare, competing with 3 guitars, keys, a laptop, a drum machine and a basement full of socialites.

The rather tall and intimidating bassist is in danger of clocking the audience member in front of him with his ‘axe’, if he gets a little carried away. It’s an intimate gig, alright. When the guitars are at their loudest, the experience seems a little more accomplished. At one point, however, a wall of sound crescendo drowns out the drums and creates an indistinguishable melting pot of noise. A balanced blend of the slow and beautiful, with the loud and raucous, has yet to be achieved.

A personal favourite from the album ‘Load Your Eyes’ is superbly executed, however. The sound is now almost spot on, so I can stop picking holes and just enjoy. The ending is extended, with a synch pad blending into the next tune, which stalls the audience from clapping after the most impressive moment so far. The intro for ‘Hearts’ is instantly recognised and loudly welcomed; shimmering guitar chords glide over a steady bassline and thumping heartbeat beat, with the warm vocal adding euphoria. The crowd are eager to applaud before the tune is over and the band seem happy with the response. Not bad for a 2nd/3rd gig.

The circumstances have made tonight seem like a special occasion, in some ways. The buzz around the album has shot them into the limelight and so the live setup may well have been a hurried afterthought. A few more gigs under their belt, and a few more tunes to broaden their set… maybe some cover versions? Slowing the tempo to pad out the performance isn’t really my idea of a solution, if indeed that’s what they were trying to do. The crowd clearly want more, I’d definitely buy a ticket if they came back to Manchester because Hearts is one of my favourite albums of the year, and also because I witnessed glimmers of what could potentially be a great live show, when all the pieces are put into place.

Peter Rea

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