Woodpigeon, The Miserable Rich, The Winter Journey

Simon Jay Catling 24/02/2009

The picturesque Victorian decor of The Deaf Institute is quickly becoming a firm favourite for Manchester gig goers and tonight's Red Deer Club hosted event seems like a match made in heaven as the local record label's eclectic taste in all things rootsy compliments perfectly the Institute's antique surroundings.

Tonight's first offering comes courtesy of Manchester oddball duo The Winter Journey, purveyors of quirky minimal folk. There's something slightly ethereal in the intertwining vocals of Anthony Braithwaite and Suzy Mangion and the latter's chopping and changing between instruments ensures that things are never static on stage despite the sleepy, dream-filled nature of their songs. A spontaneous dance in front of the stage from the female half of this slightly twee duo comes across like something out of the Wickerman and brings to a close a surprisingly varied and curious set.

Minimal is an adjective that can't be levelled at Brighton chamber quintet The Miserable Rich, and lead vocalist James de Malplaquet certainly possesses the name and attitude to fit right in to tonight's faux-aristocratic surroundings: casually strolling around the stage with a glass of red wine in hand, the singer exudes a power in his voice that seems to come almost unceremoniously to him. Behind de Malplaquet are what look like remnants of a book club collective who, seemingly bored with discussing the relative merits of Hemingyway and Joyce, took to bringing their instruments along to meetings instead. What a joyous cacophony they can make though; simple folky guitar strummings are suddenly lifted up and carried off to an enlightened place by a soaring medley of strings and harmonised vocals. Juxtaposing all of this is the lyrical content of the songs; everyday environments (such as 'Work') are described in all their contextual tedium and then taken gloriously out of context with a powerful vocal melody here or a tapestry of strings there.

'Pisshead' is probably the pick of the bunch- a knowing nod to our country's unique drinking habits with its refrain of “feeling much better if I'd had a drink”; but a wonderfully resplendent cover of The Stranglers 'Golden Brown' certainly comes close. It's a captivating performance from the quintet and one that rightfully receives a hearty reception from the large and contrasting collection of bookish middle aged men and bohemian looking females who've by now gathered under the Deaf Institute's oversized disco ball.

And so Woodpigeon suddenly find themselves with a high precedent to match, one that they can't quite reach. It's noticeable that the crowd, previously dense in number, begins to thin throughout the set and those that remain begin to chatter somewhat irritably over songs; it's perhaps understandable though, for in the wake of such delicate but powerful song craft Woodpigeon sound contrastingly methodical and laboured, and its hard to put a finger on just quite why. Maybe it's the slightly nervous aura that vocalist Mike Andrew conveys or maybe its just because there seems to be so much of this string tinged lo-fi folk coming over from North America at the moment that it's becoming quite hard to get animated about any of it, as lovely as it is. There's no denying that the Calgary band possess a fine ear for a melody and a late rally towards the end of the set stops tongues wagging and gets ears opening for their pared down Arcade Fire-influenced brand of folk pop.

Yet sadly tonight Woodpigeon aren't quite able to raise themselves up above what's come before, although that's not to say they've taken the gloss off of what's been an endearingly charming evening for all concerned. The recent addition to the Deaf Institute's calendar of the slightly trashy student night 'Missionary' is a bit of a worry for gig lovers but so long as this new direction doesn't impair on the quality of future line ups, then it seems the Trof-owned venue's reputation as a live music location will only be on the increase. Hopefully they might just extend another invite to their friends at the Red Deer Club.