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Manchester Apollo, 11th December 2007


XFM and Manchester are one the most likely bedfellows in music.  Manchester is a city that takes pride in the music it has produced.  Outside of London, there are few places that take it so seriously, and have such a high expectation to succeed.  The arrival of the music station has been a shot in the arm for the city, with it's emphasis (in the evenings, at least) on new talent and acting as a one stop shop for Manchester music.  It's not surprising that their Christmas gig can draw some big names, and that the focus is on what Manchester have to offer.


THE TING TINGS are looking at a very promising 2008.  The coveted first slot on the NME Awards Tour beckons, and the press is looking positive.  There is always something charming about two people trying to make the noise of a full band, yet The Ting Tings are proof that this isn't always enough.  Each song feels like it is missing something, and the backing tracks are a little off-putting.  They're entertaining in a way – quite aggressive, feisty and even a little bit disco at times.  The chants that appear in most of their songs wear after a while.   It's a little bit Radio 1 Roadshow, if you know what I mean.  


Also tipped for great things next year are fellow locals THE COURTEENERS.  A musical history lesson will tell us that there will always be bands like this.  They are one of the most generic indie bands to have been brought to us in recent times.  If you like The Enemy and think that The Twang are very 'now,' then this is the band for you.  They are producing the same dross output as so many struggling meat and potatoes indie bands right now, but they're from Manchester and everything about them exudes the confidence that comes from watching too many Oasis DVD's.  This is a group that will probably do rather well on the back of how the world perceives Manchester, but there really is no need for them. 


Instead of being troubled too much by the sight of thirty roadies running around a stage in a bit of a fluster, tonight XFM are putting on acoustic artists in between the main bands.  A nice touch, and one that should become a staple of gigs.  It certainly puts a stop to the usual between band boredom.  STEPHEN FRETWELL has a pleasant voice and some nice enough songs.  He doesn't make much of an impact, but he doesn't cause any harm either. 

The Manchester theme takes a little rest for a bit of a Yorkshire invasion from THE CRIBS, a band who are steadily heading towards stardom.  Third album, 'Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever,' has been a revelation when compared to their less engaging earlier work.  They have produced some of this years best singles, and live, their energy has become interesting.  It's a sign of their improved repertoire when they are able to throw 'Hey Scenesters' out second in the set.  'Moving Pictures' and 'Men's Needs...' are the best songs to be played all night and their slot is over all too quickly.  The joy of The Cribs is that those of us who are tone deaf can yell along with the choruses and, for once, be in tune.  It's good, off-kilter pop music, killer choruses and full of energy.  We get no controversy from the Jarman's tonight, but the music is the only thing that needs to talk from The Cribs.  This has to be one of their last ever support slots.  


The 'are you still here?' award this evening goes to JAMES WALSH from STARSAILOR, who does the pre-CHARLATANS acoustic set.  Anyone expecting a huge deviation from the Starsailor sound are clearly deluded.  Three 'classics' and one from their new album (due out next year) are inoffensive enough, but there was only ever the need for one Starsailor album.  It's as boring as you'd expect it to be.  He always had a great voice, but he put it to tedious use.  It's almost enough to make me rethink the benefits of the between band bonus act.


The Charlatans are headlining this evening, and using it as a good excuse to showcase some new material, and is Tim Burgess looking a little bit emo these day?.  The thing is, it's not right for the event.  This is a charity gig (in aid of Shelter), and they are band that could make a lot of people's nights by steaming through the greatest hits.  'The Only One I Know' and 'Love Is The Key' are very well received, as are any songs that people recognise.  The new songs are good, but it's reached a point where you know exactly what to expect from The Charlatans, and it's unlikely that anyone was blown away by something they hadn't heard before. 


In an age where every band is reforming, it's nice to see some bands pressing on and still being interesting to an extent.  But when it's Christmas and it's a bit of a party, like the office do, people want to dance to the songs they know.  It's not a bad performance, but Manchester should look a little bit sheepish, the boys from Wakefield stormed in and stole the show.