Many bands sound ideal for awkward gigs staged in L-shaped rooms at run down pubs or in the sweltering heat of a cramped basement. There are those that are purposely crafted to suit the acoustics of arenas and the world’s stadia. Both are on completely different ends of the scale, obviously, with garage rock and the airbrushed platitudes of U2 rarely meeting. Parenthetical Girls have never been a part of the musical norm, something reflected in the unique majesty of their sound, which would ideally be played upon a stage. However, for the minute, the upstairs of Trof’s flagship Northern Quarter will do.
Their dramatic sensibilities were the last to take to the stage, however. Edwin Stevens currently finds himself playing in many of Manchester’s most exciting new bands, but it could well be his solo work that gets him the most plaudits. Under the name Irma Vep, he spends 40 minutes sat on a tired looking couch, plaintively strumming on his guitar and lavishing the slowly swelling crowd with his uniquely husky voice. Whilst it may not quite have the same effect as his recently released full band effort on local label Icecapades, there’s a haunting quality that oddly fits with the rest of the bill.
Freddy Ruppert’s last couple of weeks sound like they’ve been stolen from an independent coming of age movie – having been admitted to hospital, he had to sign himself out of hospital on the day of his 27th birthday in order to attend the trip. Whilst the gig may be under the name of Former Ghosts, this is essentially a solo gig. There’s no band on earth that wouldn’t be worse off without the talents of Nika Danilova (of Zola Jesus fame), never mind fellow collaborator Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), but the emotionally charged performance is still of a ridiculously high quality.
Despite breaking his knuckle early on due to overly enthusiastic drumming on a tom, he carries on. Though it might be down to the sheer physical agony his is certainly enduring, it’s more likely that the highly personal lyrics are the reason Freddy appears to constantly be on the verge of tears. You can hear the strain in his voice throughout standout track ‘New Orleans’ – dedicated to Gareth of Los Campesinos! fame, eagerly swaying at the front. By the end of the set, he looks like the industrial, electronic beats have left him completely void of energy, hunched as though his own words have crippled him.
There’s barely time to get a drink by the time Ruppert is back on stage, this time with Parenthetical Girls. The drama of their sound is embodied by the wonderfully enthusiastic Zac Pennington, whose falsetto vocals furnish the track with a splendour that others lack. The obvious debt owed to Morrissey that has been apparent through the band’s releases is paid in full with a suitably manic cover of The Smiths ‘Handsome Devil’, whilst the rest of the tracks of enlivened by Pennington’s histrionics. At one point his actually leaves the room, serenading the watching crowd through a window, using the stairs to the upstairs toilet as a prop. At another, he uses a cooling fan as an impromptu instrument as his allows it to attack his microphone, bizarrely puncturing his vocals with violent percussion.
Whilst the prancing brilliance of Pennington is something to entertain the eyes, his band have always had music that speaks for itself. Whilst the band themselves admitted that the previous night’s gig was a disaster, there’s absolutely no sign of that here, despite Ruppert having to keep one hand firmly in an ice pack. They play the ‘hits’, but each with their own twist – Avenue of Trees sounds jauntier, whilst Love Connection part II is now voiced by Rachel, inching it closer towards the Casiotone for the Painfully cover rather than the recorded version.
The fact that Mancunians can still find it in their hearts (and in their pockets) to shell out money for what is, essentially, an Ian Brown festival in Platt Fields park is one upsetting thing – that they can’t fill a small venue playing host to three acts with such poise, presence and beauty is another thing entirely. Parenthetical Girls are never going to be a part of the musical elite, which has as much to do with excellently illustrative lyrics like ‘I felt his size/close to a dozen times’ as it is to do with anything else. They’re an anachronism, a once in a generation freak, and that Manchester has played host to them twice is nothing short of brilliant – we can only hope that they come back again.
Parethetical Girls – Avenue of Trees [last.fm]