Having spent the day meandering around the streets of Manchester, breezing through the art gallery, Central Library, Chinatown and several bars, by the time I arrive at Gorilla to see Pissed Jeans this writer is feeling perhaps more mellow than one should be for a punk rock gig.
But then, Pissed Jeans aren’t your average punk band: their music runs the gamut from sludgy, drawn-out drone rock to alarming exercises in abrasive, cacophonous noise, to fairly straight, riff-driven hardcore. Their lyrics – delivered in howls, yelps, screeches and monotone speech by frontman Matt Korvette – often deal not with Big Ideas or ‘sticking it to The Man’, but the mundanities of middle class life, with at times blackly comical commentary on subjects such as aging, boredom, ice cream and scrapbooking.
Leeds psychedelic noise outfit Hookworms take the stage first, bringing their enveloping electronic drone to a fairly thinly-attended back room club (Gorilla is a trendy bar that serves good, if overpriced beer to fashionably dressed students first, and acts as a live venue second).
The place is an intimate size and it’s got an arresting look to it, like a bomb shelter with walls of what could be electrical panels, or old gym lockers with WWII-era knobs and dials, either side of the stage. However, the sound mix is poor and Hookworms’ music, which is already based around a kind of krautrock repetition, becomes interminable; like being stuck in a washing machine with multi-coloured bulbs flashing off in your face every few seconds.
The band certainly seem into it, and it’s hard not to wonder if they’re just being unfairly represented due to the muddy EQ. But it remains that the indistinct blurring of each instrument, coupled with the inherent repetition of their music, creates the effect of one protracted – and boring – song rather than a full set. After about forty minutes they say their thank yous and take off, leaving a crowd who generally seem completely indifferent to what they’ve just seen.
Unfortunately, the sound issues don’t improve much for the main event, and Pissed Jeans. Korvette is fascinating to watch; leaping, writhing, tearing at his clothes and dripping with a strangely impressive amount of sweat as he spits, screams and snarls about subjects such as asocial apathy (‘False Jesii Part 2’) and wishing death on a co-worker (‘Cafeteria Food’). But his voice is often lost within the quagmire of guitar, bass and drums: it’s a sloppy wall of distorted noise, and not in any good way.
Again, the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with the band, or at least not entirely. They do make a couple of choices which seem a little baffling: blasting through the aforementioned ‘False Jesii Part 2’ at double speed, turning up the song’s aggression but losing all of its groove, and playing a medley of ‘She Is Science Fiction’ and ‘Health Plan’ – which should have been a thrilling one-two punch – that is marred by neither song being played through to full length – or maybe they were, the sound is honestly so messed up at points that they could have been playing anything.
Still, they bring an intense, sweaty energy which is undeniably exciting, and would have been better served by a more balanced sound mix. Korvette constantly interacts with the crowd, although his sardonic sense of humour sometimes feels just a touch too passive-aggressive and clever-clever to be funny to anyone but himself, and most of his winking barbs at the audience are only half-audible anyway.
At the end of it all, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come away feeling slightly let down, and others seem that way too. Perhaps the problem is one of sheer volume and attack – a venue too small to contain the furious power of a Pissed Jeans gig. One thing’s for sure: that back room is going to stink of sweat for about a week.