Live Review : Crippled Black Phoenix + Fotocrime + Weirdwolf @ Rebellion, Manchester on March 20th 2019

It doesn't start well. I leave more people back at me house (not including the cats) than there are at rebellion when I arrive. At first glance it seems that Manchester's post rock massive have decided to stay in and wash their collective hairs tonight rather than brave the rather barmy spring evening. Weirdwolf take the stage to essentially an empty room, what punters there are stand so far back that they practically are falling into the lap-dancing club next door. Faced with the gapping chasm that is Rebellion's dance floor devoid of people Weirdwolf never make it out of first gear. Their jaunty take on radio friendly alt rock probably lands well when surrounded by a massing throng but tonight it frankly feels lacklustre and soulless.

Fotocrime is essentially Ryan Patterson (frontman with late lamented and criminally underrated post-hardcore heroes Coliseum) on his tod with just a sequencer and a low slung guitar for company. This might be a very modern interpretation of the concept of a one man band but within the space of the first track he manages to display more charisma and stagecraft than Weirdwolf managed in their entire set.

Fotocrime are at heart a Sisters of Mercy cover act, but what he is playing is the mythical non-existent goth masterpiece that Andrew Eldritch should have made after “Floodland”. I've never heard a single note of Fotocrime material before tonight, but every single song feels so authentically alt-eighties that I find myself greeting each track like a long lost friend. I might have long along packed away the winkle pickers, frilly shirt and purple eyeliner (the photograph evidence still remains) but I am a goth at heart and Fotocrime's facsimile of everything The Sisters of Mercy should have been if they had continued being as prolific as they started really makes my night. There still may not be a enough people in Rebellion for a decent five aside game but I happily wallow in the bizarre feeling of being nostalgic about songs only written last year.

As we edge toward Crippled Black Phoenix’s nine O’clock start time a respectable audience starts to gather (predominantly male, breaded, balding and sporting Pink Floyd T-shirts) and my fears of a sparsely attended damp squib are thankfully abated. The fact that do get a respectable showing is even more relief as tonight Crippled Black Phoenix number eight and there were points in the evening where there had been a danger that they would outnumber the audience. They are also utterly astonishing. Rebellion is a regular haunt for me but I have never heard the sound so crisp and clear. With eight musicians all playing concurrently complex uplifting euphoric music there is always a danger that Crippled Black Phoenix could come across messy and sludgy, but the mix is pristine and each part of their magnificent musical jigsaw gets the room it needs to breath. Crippled Black Phoenix might be the brainchild of musical journeyman Justin Greaves (formally of Electric Wizard and Iron Monkey amongst others), but tonight they feel like a tight solid consolidated whole with each of the eight member playing their part in creating an incredible soundscape of emotive music. In fact if anything, Justin takes a backseat tonight allowing Swedish vocalist and guitarist Daniel Änghede to take both command and plaudits. I’ve seen Crippled Black Phoenix many times over the years but tonight was the first time it felt like a cohesive band as opposed to a musical collective.

Last year’s “Great Escape” was a superb slice of modern intricate Prog and tonight we get a number of cuts from it including opener 'To You I Give’, the mournfully beautiful 'Nebulas’, the bonkers but brilliant instrumental 'Slow Motion Breakdown' and the horn drenched majesty of the title track. However with a back catalogue totalling eleven studio albums and countless EP’s Crippled Black Phoenix have a treasure trove of material worth mining and over the two hour set we get the looping dark U2 of 'No Fun’, the boogie woggie of 'Troublemaker' and the widescreen cinematic doom of 'We are Darkeners’. But the pièce de résistance is left to the end, a full twenty five minute note perfect rendition of Pink Floyd’s masterpiece 'Echoes. There are those that will argue that a band that go out of their way to sound like Pink Floyd actually covering Pink Floyd is all a bit Prog eating itself, but it is saved from any disdain by being utterly amazing. I usually feel faithful replicate covers are all a bit meaningless and redundant but this was imply incredible and felt for me to be the closest I would ever come to seeing the real Floyd at the UFO club in 1970. It also sealed an astonishing night that could have gone really badly but ended up being by far the best show I’ve seen this year.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki