I had resigned myself to not going to see Leftfield in concert last week. I was too slow with the tickets and missed out on the Manchester leg of their tour. Gutted. Until a fortuitous look at my newsfeed prompted me in to action…
The day of the event loomed large and I was working in my regular job. Around lunch time I took a quick break, checked Facebook and Twitter to share any important Decoded Mag stories and generally catch up with ‘world events’, as you do. A friend’s post headed my newsfeed “Spare Ticket to Leftfield tonight”. And quicker than a Usain Bolt race I was replying YES, YES!! My day suddenly got better, and the normal grind of working life was of scant regard to me. I was off to see Leftfield; The pioneers, the originals. The reason anyone over the age of 35 got into dance music in the first place! My heroes.
For those that didn’t know, Leftfield were a trailblazing band from the dawn of progressive house who married dub, house and trance in to a unique, pioneering sound. Their debut album – Leftism was voted as ‘one of the greatest album of all time’ by Q magazine and catapulted Sex Pistols lead singer John Lydon back to the top of the UK charts. Their follow up album Rhythm & Steath further cemented their place in history with tracks like Africa Shox and Phat Planet (which was used by Guinness for their global marketing campaigns). This, their third album, sees only Neil Barnes return as fellow band mate Paul Daley has completely left the music business behind. And is their first album for some 16 years.
It was a bit of a mad dash after work, and the 11 mile journey home through rush hour traffic in the UK’s third largest city was, in short, stressful. I had time to hoover down the sausage and chips I bought from the corner chippy and change clothes before I was off out again to meet up with Chris and Jason – two Mancunian friends, and old school ravers since the early Nineties. My ticket it turned out, was from Chris’s wife who decided she didn’t want to go (Thanks Nicky)! The talk as I returned from the bar in Brewdog, next door to the Albert Hall in central Manchester, was on the local nightspots on Peter Street. They told me about a giant place next to the Radison Blu hotel that was on 3 levels; now in a state of disrepair and dormant. Manchester is full of these stories, and every time I hang out with these guys, it’s like a living history tour of one of the UKs most remarkable musical cities.
I had never been inside the Albert Hall, but I’d heard a great deal about it. Originally built as a Methodist hall in 1910, it was used as a meeting place until the late 1960s. Renovated a few years ago into a concert hall, it has seen everyone from Jamie XX to Belinda Carlisle and regular dance events like Carl Cox Revolution and Hacienda nights. On entering the space, I was stuck by the ornate baroque stylings and stained glass windows. There was an air of anticipation and positivity which you seldom feel at venues filled with younger crowds. Everyone here was ready for a good night; problems were left at the door and those moody sulking people had forgotten to show up (fortunately for all). Freeze regular and Liverpool resident Jemmy was on warm up duties, and his soundtrack of chunky deep vibes was finding favour with the Mancunian faithful. Leftfield were due to start at 9.15pm but the place was already full at 8.30. The white noise of a thousand conversations hummed loudly and Jemmy had a job to hear the music above the dull roar.
9.15 came and went, and the crowd started to get restless. Jemmy reacted magnificently with more vocal and upbeat choices which the crowd responded to; disaster averted for now… Eventually the band emerged from their dressing room around 9.45 and climbed behind the large white screens to the bank of electronic machinery to find their places. Still quite bright from the sun shining defiantly through that stained glass, the opening chords of ‘Bad Radio’ ushered in the start of the set, its heavy bass and stabby notes reminded me of a demented version of something by Gary Numan. The light show, slightly obscured by my position in the upper levels was reminiscent of the Dubfire:Live show I had seen in Holland during ADE last year. Filmic images in sepia and shapes in dulled colour filled the space in front of the band, who remained for the most part behind the screen, nonetheless I was impressed, and as the final notes of the opener finished, the lead into current single Universal Everything was greeted with a deafening roar from the faithful crowd. Having not heard any of the album beforehand, I was blown away by the composition and power of the track. Truly a marvel to hear in its live state, all sequenced into Ableton and triggered by a visually ecstatic Barnes.
Not content to just showcase new material, Leftfield cleverly integrated works from their first 2 albums which the majority of the crowd knew, and for the younger ones, could discover again. That said, the triplet feel of 6/8 War from their second album, continued to perplex those less gifted dancers, and the image of a room full of fish freshly plucked from the ocean is one of a night full of wonderful memories. The mid section of the concert was bathed in Dub. More than at previous times I’ve seen them, but as fresh and powerful, as always. Long time contributor Cheshire Cat was greeted with rapturous applause for his first of two songs – Chant of a Poor Man, and later for probably my all time favourite Leftfield track – Inspection (Check One). Sandwiched in-between was the soulful vocals of the dreadlocked Ofei filling in for Nicole Willis fantastically in Swords.
Africa Shox took things in a more upbeat direction and continues to sound like nothing else out there, such is the genius of Leftfield when they are on form. And as Dave Simpson writing for the Guardian states “…they haven’t so much moved forward so much as waited for everyone to catch up.” The final few tracks, Alternative Light Source, Shaker Obsession and Storms End were classic Leftfield and left me very inspired (and a little drunk). The encore, Phat Planet, nearly took the roof of the place and I actually looked around for cracks in the ceiling or loose plaster! Their Brixton gig will forever be imprinted in my mind! A brilliant gig from an ever popular band. I hope the new generation of dance fans take them to their hearts as we did. Neil Barnes is a production genius, and deserves continued success.
Photo credits : Leftfield