Shield Patterns - Manchester Soup Kitchen
They were hardly going to be challenging The Polyphonic Spree for onstage shenanigans but Shield Patterns, as compelling a duo as has emerged from the electro left field in an age, are a live act whose savvy belies their (relative) inexperience and their numbers. Unfazed by the potential constraints of their material, a galaxy of ones and zeroes, they play the hell out of it. When we spoke last month, they conceded that adapting their songs for touring had been a challenge but they thought they’d cracked it. That’s some understatement. Debut Contour Lines is a chill affair, explosive but intimate; best suited, you have to concede, to private listening rather than sharing with a bustling room. And yet tonight, at this album launch show, Claire Brentnall and Richard Knox take a healthy swipe at any such preconceptions, and deliver a performance that’s upfront and generous, brave and confrontational.
The unwieldy demands of the stage so often do for acts like Shield Patterns. You can easily foresee the pinpoint detail that gives Contour Lines its hypnotic pull being lost tonight. And yet what happens is the distinct opposite, their whispery abstractions gaining unexpected definition. During opener ‘Shade’ (they bookend the set in line with the album, daring to close with the fractious reverberations of ‘Charon’), its deathly refrain (“And it was cold for ages…”) suddenly reveals itself. It was always there, you realise… so why not spot it earlier? Suddenly, the narrative arc of the record starts to reveal itself anew, a thrilling transparency lighting corners previously dark.
Their live set up just works, with Knox on percussion and a battery of loops, effects, backing, and Brentnall on vocals, keyboards and clarinet. Staging is pitched super smart, with minimal lighting and spooky back projections. The sound is, particularly for a venue whose acoustics always lag some way behind its atmosphere, nigh on perfect. Shield Patterns are deeply focussed but they maintain a connection – with each other, and with a full and hugely appreciative room. Almost impossibly casual at times (“So, thank you. We, erm, have some more songs to play for you now…”), they navigate from the drifting ballady of ‘Ruby Red’ to the suffocating atmospherics of ‘WeYouMe’ with steely composure.
Bafflingly, they leave out ‘The Rule’, the album’s beefiest blast, but we’ll let a mere finger wag suffice for now. As the set ebbs and flows, its delicate interludes are at least as overpowering as its heftier beats. ‘Charon’ shuffles almost imperceptibly to a close, and Shield Patterns pause for a moment. And then they smile, return the crowd’s applause, and it’s a moment, genuinely celebratory. Somewhere out there, this unbecoming duo, not content with, you know, casually delivering the album of the year so far, are getting serious about the business of taking it to the masses. Take note, and stay close.
Photos by Alex Bell.