I’ve been to a few church gigs in recent years, some of which have been seriously lacklustre with dreadful sound, but Saint Philips Church is a stunning venue for any kind of gig and tonight’s promoters, Now Wave – forward thinking as ever – have been using St Philips for a while. They have got the set up just right and if The Antlers gig there a couple of years back was anything to go by, a fine evening indeed would be had.
Openers, Forest Swords, were lucky to be here. On their way over from Liverpool they had a major car crash. Their driver was hospitalised and bass guitar destroyed in the process but without fuss or frills the pair took to the alter-come-stage for their Manchester debut. Up until recently Forest Swords was a solo performance but now as a duo their silhouettes are framed by an alter and a large back-projection of abstract and quite beautiful imagery. While Forest Swords sound was powerful from the outset I’m certain they would have benefited from an increase in volume. As it was, the natural reverb of the room sounded almost epic. Their swirling rhythms and minimal but striking melody lines were built perfectly for this. As the sun set in the chancel window, a thirty second Jungle breakdown was unexpected but an utter delight in a set made up of tracks from the very well received and critically acclaimed Dagger Paths (released on No Pain In Pop), Forest Swords debut EP from 2011. Closing their set as the sun finally disappeared I could have quite happily listened to another hour or two of Forest Swords.
Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 and Dropped Pianos were quite simply, and not hyperbolically, three of the finest records to be released in recent memory and tonight’s rare organ performance was always going to be a treat for the congregation of two hundred and some lucky ticket holders. Bizarrely, Hecker was playing above and behind the majority of us and in near pitch black conditions, with only a couple of candles to illuminate the entire church. During the first few minutes of his set people seemed unsettled by this, some sat on the alter hoping to strain some view of him, some people contorted and twisted their entire bodies to look upwards in search of a better place to view the show from. It didn’t take very long for people to turn back around, most with their eyes now closed, to simply listen. From where I was sat I have never heard a crowd so silent or respectful to a musician before, even at the Opera or Ballet I’ve heard brief snippets of chatter but tonight there was nothing except for the occasional crack of a can reverberating around the room, which seemed to add rather than take anything away from the performance.
Hecker’s sound recently described as “like sitting in a beautiful jet engine” is a mixture of feedback created by pipe organ, computers and guitar pedals, not that we can see anything of that in the darkness of St Philips. His sound is crushingly melancholic and intensely moving. It is in equal parts beautiful as it is brutal. With my eyes closed I’m transported through the cold and empty spaces of my mind. The expansive plane of blackness Hecker is setting at each of our feet comes with an intrinsic intimacy to the sound, the waves of noise weave their own stories and contort your memories and while listening you never quite feel like falling through space but the ground before your feet isn’t particularly apparent either.
Special seems like an understatement when trying to describe what I, along with a couple of hundred others have just experienced by the time Hecker makes a swift exit as the lights come up. The light is disorientating after our self-imposed sensory deprivation, I feel dizzy and a friend comments upon feeling ‘sick, but not in a bad way’. Future Everything and Now Wave should be commended for bringing this unique event together.