Alden Penner - Gulliver's, Manchester
Best known for his work in The Unicorns, Alden Penner has actually been very prolific in the twelve years since their 2003 cult hit ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?’. Currently a bit of a master collaborator, his new EP features the popular actor Michael Cera who, in taking a break from being typecast as an awkward teenager, has been joining Penner recording and touring the record - which can’t have been hurting the ticket sales, as tonight's sell-out show proves.
On the EP Canada In Space Penner notes that “There are more Canadians than any other nationality represented in the planned Mars colony.” Perhaps in an attempt to represent all the hopes and dreams of the Canadians thinking of making that journey, Penner takes inspiration from all corners of the musical world. Tonight, they play a small back room in an unlikely humid corner of that world; with no air conditioning and no windows, many people have to keep leaving to cool down. Even Cera, who initially appears in a shirt and sweater, takes his jumper off a few songs in due to the heat.
There's only a smattering of new material, so the majority of the set comes from Penner’s varied back catalogue. Surprisingly, Cera takes the lead on a few songs, but there's no denying his wavering voice: his boyish charm kind of makes you overlook the weakness. He’s a lot like his on screen characters, appearing shy and immediately retreating to the back of the stage when not required.
As the set jumps from one sound to another, the band shuffle around the stage, swapping instruments almost every single time. One minute we’re listening to the poppy guitar riffs of 'Breathe to Burn' and the next they’re in the middle of the nine minute long ‘Meditate’ with a sitar-esque hook that George Harrison would be proud of.
With no backstage area, they leave the stage by walking through the crowd. ‘I think this is the best gig ever,’ says one overwhelmed audience member. An exaggeration, but memorable for all the right reasons.