Performing at the intimate Soup Kitchen, Tall Ships capsize with a shipwreck of a performance
Soup Kitchen is arguably one of Manchester’s best small band venues. The basement room is intimate, authentically unfurnished and an ideal small capacity for musical clarity. However, this intimacy cast an uncomfortable spotlight on a bland and careless performance by Tall Ships.
Tall Ships attempt to occupy a void in the region of guitar music somewhere between Tokyo Police Club and Bastille, and what niche they carve into an already crowded musical landscape is hard to discern.
A 2012 press release, bizarrely used for the event description at Soup Kitchen describes their sound as “elements of math rock and angular pop” and compares the outfit to “the likes of Battles and Minus The Bear but also the likes of Sigur Rós and Biffy Clyro.” There was nothing heard to warrant these comparisons at Soup Kitchen, just a big messy mess of instruments drowning out each others sounds.
This is the biggest of Tall Ships’ problems, the surplus of band members makes for a sound that lacks coherence and direction, especially in a compact venue. The songs deteriorated into a wall of sound, or maybe chunks of a wall that had been smashed with a hammer and left scattered in a pile on the floor.
Lead singer Ric Phethean’s distinctive Cornish drawl is one redeeming feature of the performance, but for the most part, this is either drowned out or wasted on shoddy lyrics. Tall Ships opened with ‘Ode to Ancestors’ which was an unexpected treat, with Phetean’s vocals taking the limelight. However they quickly cave in to the urge to cram in the riffs, and the show was downhill from there. The tune of ‘Phosphorescence’ in unintelligible and ‘Books’ only has a few, strange lyrics: “time is precious, and time won’t forget us,” repeated three times. Closing on ‘Vessels’ was a highlight, but by then, the performance was unsalvageable.