Extracted from a longer review on my previous blog, here’s my thoughts on the Phantom Band’s return in 2014.
The Phantom Band
The Deaf Institute, Manchester – 5th June 2014
The Phantom Band get a warm welcome from their audience tonight, fuelled partly by the unexpectedly long wait for the new album ‘Strange Friend’. With the room filled with expectant faces, first there’s a small glitch to overcome. What should be the opening synth pulse of ‘The Wind That Cried The World’ is winding down into the sort of electronic burp that Kraftwerk might make after one bier too many. ‘So much for an entrance’ singer Rick Redbeard notes drily, as keyboard warlock Andy Wake coaxes goodwill from his recalcitrant musical machine-minds.
As soon as the band launch properly, it’s immediately obvious the time away hasn’t been squandered. There’s no image or pose to the Phantom Band. Rarely do they throw any shapes on stage – guitarist Greg spends most of the gig with back to the audience, deep in communion with his amp – instead they just turn up and play. If that sounds dull, don’t be fooled. As their albums have followed a steady evolution rather than what-shall-we-do-next box ticking, so they’ve grown strong and assured as a live band.
Aside from one ‘smoochy’ number that showcases the band’s folk aspect, tonight the Phantoms have a head of steam to work off. The new songs are powered by confident, practised musicianship like drummer Iain Stewart’s thunderous but precise stick work that propels ‘Clapshot’. The self-confessed ‘creative friction’ that’s the engine for The Phantom Band’s beguiling music leaves their varied influences open for all to see, but they rub up against each other so well that each song becomes region-free and suggestive of many different and inviting musical roads that could be taken. Songs like ‘Women of Ghent’ have at their core enticingly danceable heartbeats so that it’s in no way outlandish to imagine a Phantom Band remix album occurring at some stage.
Out at the front, Mr Redbeard’s voice ranges from deep valleys to airy falsetto, arms often outstretched to the audience, like an old school crooner in full serenade or a poet declaiming verse. Occasionally the songs control Rick’s hands so he seems to be conducting, or executing a bit of prestidigitation before yanking a white rabbit from under his baseball cap.
In harmony with support bands Plank and Alpha Male Tea Party, who eschew vocals entirely, The Phantom Band end on a purely instrumental note, swapping instruments, juggling guitars and percussion to deliver a rousing version of ‘Crocodile’ from ‘Checkmate Savage’, poignantly and mysteriously re-titled on the set list as….’Cry Wank’. That’s the spirit.