City Calm Down | The Deaf Institute | May 23rd

The Deaf Institute has views. There’s a long bar for leaning, a raised, glass-enclosed platform for those who like to watch from the side like Salieri in Amadeus, a standard pit in front of the raised stage, and a stair-step bleacher gallery where you can watch from a comfortable remove. Three-piece Abbie opened the show with a hypnotizingly shy mix of original tracks and covers (including a restrained version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’). They have some songs up on iTunes, but I couldn’t find them with only ‘Abbie’ to go on. It’s a glass-slipper mystery Google can’t seem to solve. City Calm Down took the stage at close to 9.

The Manchester stop on City Calm Down’s largest tour to date saw them perform as a group of seven in a uniform of dark, button-down shirts and assorted sneaks, crowded onto a stage lined with red velvet curtains, where the brass could dip in and out of the performance as needed. They were promoting their sophomore album, an April 2018 offering of twelve tracks called Echoes in Blue. The turnout for City Calm Down was respectable, especially considering it was a Wednesday night, but it was hard to tell who was there to see a band they knew and who was there to discover something new and tantalising. Hard to tell, except for the two lads right at the front, singing along and seemingly having an altogether out-of-body-experience in the splash zone of frontman Jack Bourke’s charisma.

It would be easy to stack comparisons between City Calm Down and other retro new wave, synth-y post-punk bands, especially while they were performing in Joy Division’s ground zero of Manchester. But the band has a singular vibe that those comparisons could never account for. Live, they emit a tight wall of sound that shuffles the feet and tugs out a string of danceable nostalgia. As the set went on the crowd closed in on the stage without quite reaching touching-distance of the synth-players shoes. I blame this on the usual time it takes a crowd to warm out of self-consciousness. But what’s so singular about City Calm Down is that they sound unmediated, like they groomed their songs together in a jam-room, rather than as layered tracks in a studio. They sound like a band, which seems odd to say, but it was easy to transition from hearing them live to listening to their albums because although the live show is always going to be more impactful, the albums sound remarkably un-processed.

Jack Bourke reached into the crowd as far as he could with a leg up on the monitor, while other members, all working hard, seemed more engaged with each other or their own instruments. The concert’s laid-back crowd meant that anyone could take in the performance from different angles and watch the details, like drummer Lee Armstrong keeping time with one stick at the expense of his leg during ‘Kingdom.’ It’s the kind of show I’ll remember for the way the music felt bigger than the room. They’re a successful group who is used to playing sold-out shows in their home of Australia. Part of the pleasure of the show was knowing that the next time they come back to Manchester their fan-base, and venue, will have grown. I kept picturing someone slicing off the roof at The Deaf institute to reveal a stadium of people. City Calm Down is that good.

Their tour continues through Germany in the remainder of May and then back to Australia for the summer.

by Marsha Courneya

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