Best Coast - Manchester Ritz

“Is anyone else stoned?” Hands (a couple of dozen, at best) are raised. Bethany Cosentino adds her own, and then retracts: “Only kidding…or am I?” Kidding, most likely, if this energised, accomplished performance is anything to go by - pre-gig imbibing surely only a gallon of Red Bull and a vat of steely-eyed focus. If Best Coast once made a virtue of their ramshackle, lo-fi beginnings, new album The Only Place and Bethany and Bobb's live smarts put some distance between the Best Coast of old and this new, super-slick 2012 version.

Credit, though, to the headliners for challenging themselves with a quality under-card. Main support Spectrals offer charm and tradition, their easy, laid back Americana winning appreciation rather than ecstasy, but the further down the bill you go, the more treasure you collect. Early birds win big time tonight: credit to local promoters NowWave for ongoing quality and quantity. Fear of Men ply traditional indie components (a chiming Strat, bubbling beats, sweet female vocals) but they take them somewhere intriguing. The vibe is summer-y but there’s a dynamism that bites. Daniel’s guitar lines drive as well as jangle, and Jessica sings with winning clarity and zeal. They pass the support act ‘Would You Go and See Them On Their Own?’ test with ease.

But, make way for openers Pins. The buzz around town grows and clued-up locals head for the front. A recent series of gigs in oddball venues makes for excellent grounding for this step-up and the four piece pounce. Focused but fiery, they treat The Ritz like they’re at the end of their own month-long residency. ‘Eleventh Hour’ and ‘Shoot You’ still scorch but it’s the new, as yet unreleased, songs that are quietly starting to grip. ‘Love You For Life’, a storming barrage built around Lois’s pinched guitar line, signals progress beyond reason.

They played their first gig last September – you suspect those who were there wouldn’t even recognise them tonight. Take note of Faith’s growing stature, a free, committed performance, and drummer Lara, whose deft arrangements and industry (floor tom gets hurt) power ‘Eleventh Hour’. The smartest purveyors of noir-ish visions, from Siouxsie and the Banshees through to The Raveonettes, know how to illuminate their garage aesthetic with sharp pop sensibilities and Pins, clearly, get this. Tonight, they dazzle. No doubt they could conjure glories with practice amps in a shed, so to see them shine on the bigger stage reminds you why they’re 2012’s brightest hope.

The headliners enter to a crowd warmed and expectant. Expanded to a touring four piece, Best Coast are an irresistible live proposition. Too much has been made of the new album’s ‘mature’ approach but rest assured any fears The Go-Go’s would provide lifestyle as well as musical influence can be shelved: the new songs come alive onstage and Best Coast are staying on those rails. So there’s not a great deal of drama to the show. Two or three fast ones, then a slow one. You want ebb and flow, theatrics, even? Go see Coldplay.

But the set is programmed with care. From an opening ‘The Only Place’ to a closing ‘Boyfriend’, the best part of 20 songs kick you in the shin or stroke your hair. By the tiniest of margins, the latter effect is most pleasing - the drifting ballads from the new album catch the sun. Bethany's twang sits high in the mix and she's gloriously on the money. With the crowd tonight mercifully free of your usual talkers and amateur photographers, and this dusty old hall boasting a clean-up in line with its headliners own re-modelling, here’s artistic development of the very coolest kind.

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