LIVE REVIEW: Squid, Blue Bendy & Ichigo Evil – New Century Hall, Manchester 18/10/23


The recently re-opened venue set within a modernist mid-century tower, boasts a sprung dance floor, original wood and glass panelling and (apparently) Europe’s longest ash tray, along with a very trendy eating area within its concrete and glass structure. It also once played host to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones and, apart from a gorgeous, ever changing light display set in the ceiling, retains much of its original shell. It is a beautiful space if you like modernism, and I do. 

I really didn’t know what to expect from opening act Ichigo Evil. I had no idea that Bristol band The Evil Usses had joined forces with experimental Japanese performance artist Ichi to create something rather unique. My first impression was of a man lying on the floor raising his legs in the air while a band of completely differing individuals played strange and avant-garde noises quietly behind, though with much intent. When Ichi finally arose from his “exercises” in running shorts and started to nervously pace up and down the lip of the stage endlessly coiling the microphone lead, I heard the faint tell-tale fast drumstick click that usually foretells the advent of breakneck speed metal, and… BANG! A screeching, slamming cacophony hit me in the gut, as the guitarists turban hits the floor, and he grins manically as waves of Melt Banana inspired mayhem hits me in the gut. The band are a very interesting proposition, very much art rock. Sort of Half Japanese meets Can. Highly inventive musically, with some inspired sections of intense noise coupled with a real sense of Dadaist absurdity. I really like them. 

Blue Bendy, a 6 piece from Brighton (where else!) were a different kettle of kitsch. The singer, with his wrap around shades, had elements of Ian McCulloch and Jarvis Cocker in his baritone delivery and provided very much a focal point to a band that wasn’t entirely in focus for much of the time, getting lost in the cavernous surroundings far too much, until the 3 guitars blurred together into a mush and the drums and keys, placed way over to stage left, were left with timing issues. I would say they are one’s to watch but tonight didn’t do them justice. 

And so, to Squid, whose new album “O Monolith” is currently flavour of the month for all fans of skewed, funk driven avant pop-prog (and I’m one). I saw them a couple of years ago at End of the Road, and believe I reviewed them favourably here. They were a lot of fun, if a little one sided with their loud/quiet, shout/talk approach, but they have matured to include many more strings to their expanding bow. I suppose you could describe them as Prog Funk (or Punk?!…. Frog anyone?). They have such glorious extremes, with Louis Borlase and Anton Pearson, with their twin guitar assault, coming on like members of the Magic Band jamming with Neu!, disjointed but fused together into a cohesive whole, like parts of The Mars Volta. Arthur Leadbetter and Laurie Nankivell on cello (and keys) and trumpet respectively provided musical motifs over a sometimes furious assault of noise, like on “If You Had Seen the Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away” and the beautifully atmospheric opening to “Narrator”, cleverly interspersing themselves into the framework of sound that they create. 

It’s hard to be a singing drummer but Ollie Judge manages to pull off both while still holding his own as front man, despite the added difficulties presented by newer songs, where his voice has more importance in the melodic glue of the songs. 

The mosh began about halfway through and the crowd were chanting and jeering and pulsating along, breaking out into unprompted clapping several times, especially in songs like “Peel St”, something I’ve never witnessed before. As the show ended, with an unexpected whisper at the end of “The Blades”, with Ollie striding along the edge of the stage, and as the audience began to file out, the Andy Williams song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” started up through the PA, and the entire audience, both young and old alike, were singing (or shouting) along joyously. What a show. 

Setlist: Swing (In A Dream)/If you Had Seen the Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away/Undergrowth/G.S.K/ Narrator/After the Flash/Glass/Peel St/Documentary Filmmaker/Pamphlets/The Blades 

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Review by Andrew Wood

Photos by Ali Blair

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