Sky Larkin - Manchester Deaf Institute
So many highlights tonight on this, the final night of Sky Larkin’s tour in support of new, career-best-by-some-distance album Motto. So many ‘bits’ where you go “Shit – better scribble that down or I’ll forget…” even though you look like a dick because only dicks pull out little notebooks at gigs. Vying for top spot: Katie Harkin’s extended wig-out on the album's frenzied centrepiece ‘Frozen Summer’; not a ‘solo’, because solos are for the dinosaurs, but it’s three or four minutes of gymnastic fret-play that shifts between tender and vicious from bar to bar and it has you looking around checking to see if anyone is bothering to film it. (No. Bah. Bastards seem too pre-occupied with actually watching the band. Whatever next?) There’s the closing ‘Motto’, with its discomfiting, doom-laden intro and epic coda where Katie and new (excellent) touring bassist Mike Matthews play almost telepathically off and around each other. Or perhaps it’s the incidentals that best warm the cockles: Harkin fluffing an intro and quipping “Oops! Left the musical toilet seat up again!” or Nestor Matthews breaking a drumstick seconds into ‘Carve It Out’, laughing to himself, and grabbing another without so much as missing a beat.
Sky Larkin confirmed not so much their influences or heritage with Motto, but their emerging identity. If their previous work had always been a cut above the usual schmindie, their third album reached greedily for the top rung. Their re-modelling of the US alt. epoch, a template tweaked similarly by the likes of Blood Red Shoes and Pulled Apart by Horses, is savvy and discrete. Much of Motto dispenses with some of the breezier side roads of their first two albums in favour of a robust, propulsive attack mode. The title track has a hint of the scratchy, twitching riff from Sonic Youth’s ‘Teenage Riot’, and the dual guitar interplay throughout recalls prime Sleater-Kinney. The writing is braver, too – songs being given room to play themselves out, resolve themselves in their own good time; several benefitting from unforced, extended outros.
That new sense of depth, and certainly that new muscularity, makes their live show a thrill and a wonder. For a three piece playing in a club in the back streets of Manchester, they manage to put on a show - it’s not often you find yourself diverted by the playing of every member in a band. They pitch and roll, never settle. (Credit to bassist Matthews, who didn’t feature on the recorded versions of these songs: deft and industrious, he goes about them like they’re his own.) Sky Larkin play with a real sense of joy and wonder, and they play really hard. Even as a trio, they’re super-charged. A set-list that sees them play most of the new album, a couple of oldies (‘Still Windmills’, ‘Fossil I’) and a glorious re-working of ‘The Day the World Turned Day-glo’ by X-Ray Spex (as simultaneously prescient and funny a take on the plasticised horror of the modern world as it ever was), builds little flash points and a sparky ebb and flow into the set. It’s a boisterous, fully-featured hour, free of flat spots.
It’s a shame Harkin’s voice gets a little lost in the tumult tonight but no matter. We have a ball, they have a ball. Crucially, despite being a man down – they recorded their new album with two guitarists, Nile Marr playing alongside Harkin – they transfer the colour and shape of their new material to the stage with ease. They remind you that indie pop, rock, whatever - ugly terms almost pre-destined to produce outcomes just as ugly - need not be grey and humdrum. Sometimes, a band grasps the weathered componentry and re-assembles it in an unexpectedly startling form. And so it is with Sky Larkin. Perhaps their character is ultimately too distinct and oblique to carry them to super-stardom but it still kind of baffles and appalls in equal measure that they’re not staggering out of the venue swigging bottles of Krug and collapsing into a fleet of waiting, blacked-out Hummers. We should treasure them. Seriously, now: all a-fuckin’-board.