Stealing Sheep – Live at Band on the Wall, Manchester
Stealing Sheep have been here and there for quite some time. They’ve done the rounds on the festival scene, they’ve played plenty of support slots and they’ve even popped up on a Hollyoaks advert.
Their presence at all the above though has never been vital though – always incredibly fun, but always a few steps from completely paramount.
I mean, they haven’t made us here at Far Out coo upward to the sky on hind legs, using our left paw to bat away the sheer sonic ecstasy for fear of irreversible rapture. Until now, that is. Band On The Wall, Friday night, paw flaps in abundance.
Opening with debut album big-hitter ‘Shut Eye’ into second album opener ‘Sequence’, they create an almost perfect, first hand example of their recent stylistic change. The first is all whimsy woodland, the second bauhaus beach hut.
Remaining is the experimentalism, the slightly discordant tonality, the undercurrent of ominous – and most importantly, those never-leave-you vocal melodies.
The whole three leader dynamic retains it’s place as their catalyst, and with the chemistry on show stronger than ever, it’s clear to see that the switch is just genuine, authentic progression. It’s a straight up swap from strings to keys, and a genius one at that.
The transition of old to new crops up a few times during the set, shifting the pace rhythmically throughout. By the time we arrive at lead single ‘Not Real’, it’s easy to see that the opinion of ‘best thing they’ve created yet’ is one shared universally amongst the crowd. It’s a sparking, fizzing neon lit colour orgy; off beat drum patterns propping up a deceptively simple melodic core. It also makes for the strongest evidence for what we believe to be the very best aspect of the band – whilst the harmonies are glorious, they achieve this ever so slight divergence, a sort of off kilter string-bend effect.
Take the three vocals apart, and you have three entirely different routes to explore, as we see so often tonight. Yet together, there lies an off kilter chorus of infancy, a swerve into the land of the wicker man, and it is wondrous.
The storming ‘Apparition’ makes an impenetrable case to be the next sequinned star of this LP, whilst ‘Greed’ offers up a new take on where their sleekness could take them. Almost afrobeat in heritage, it sees backbone Lucy Mercer confronting a set up of drums with rapid-fire hands, singing, and kicking away at a converted pedal-come-marracca. She may have even had a tambourine strapped to her back.
It’s appears testament to the sheer effort of the band, and more importantly their musical talent. Partner it all with such magnetic warmth, and the two track encore demanded by a red palmed crowd feels more than justified.
They’ve always been great, but tonight, they lay down their glitter crusted gauntlet with real intent – Stealing Sheep are going places, and they’re taking you with them. Mike Emerson