2:54 - Manchester Deaf Institute
Sub-zero temperatures outside? Check. Old 'shark eyes' yet again on the front row, worryingly steady of hand, filming another female-fronted act's entire set? Check. A crowd wobbling between mindless chatter and coy, nervy silence? Check, check, check. Welcome to the horror show that is the winter school night Manchester gig experience. Oh, and here come 2:54, spanner in hand and an eye on the applecart.
Towards the end of this accomplished, dizzying set, Collette Thurlow displays winning good grace: "Thank you so much, Manchester. You've always been so good to us." Hmm. Manchester gets off lightly yet again. Post gig, Music Fix snapper Alex Bell offers stark summary: "Well, that was a bit tense…" Still, what a near-full Deaf Institute lacks in passion, it makes up for in appreciation of the, um, reserved and respectful kind; and 2:54, whose performance mode is steely focus rather than rampant abandon, find a way to warm our icy hearts.
In town for the second time in four months to promote superior second album The Other I, they're a revelation - cool and self-assured. Collette leads from the front and squares up to the audience, shoulders back, bouncing on her toes. She surely wasn't always this magnetic, but then again, 2:54 are twice the band they were a couple of years ago and she knows it - hence, you imagine, the new-found fearlessness. At its best, their eponymous debut was sophisticated and elegant dream pop, and its way with mood, melody and shadow poetics hinted at more to come. Album number two vaulted beyond the quiet-loud guitar schema of its predecessor with an expansive production and a growing emphasis on beats. Apparently, Hannah Thurlow got greedy/curious in the studio second time around and tonight she swaps between guitar and keyboard as the band (augmented as ever by Joel Porter on drums and Alex Robins on bass) sets about the new stuff: the skittering beats of 'Blindfold' (just one savvy remix away from a club pop transformation); the heat haze of a hypnotic opening 'Sleepwalker'. Somewhere amongst the switchback riffs of 'Crest' is a hint of the Thurlow sisters' catholic pool of influence: miss the overlap with Jimmy Eat World's 'Bleed American' and you're not listening hard enough.
Fans of the first album have to make do with scraps. There are cheers as Hannah picks through the intro to 'Scarlet' and there are more as she tears open 'Creeping'. No room for 'Revolving' or 'Circuitry' is 2:54's brimming confidence writ large. As the set gathers pace, it gains stature. Suddenly, here's a band striding from likeable to near-essential and you slap yourself for previously being so presumptuous. This is a mighty, mighty performance - you can’t help but admire the stealth with which 2:54 quietly tear the roof off. It's just a shame that on a night where sisters were doing it for anything but themselves, Manchester couldn’t bring itself to be quite so selfless.