It’s official. The Blue Aeroplanes are no less a beguiling sight and feast upon the left-over mince pies now as they were three decades before.
This Bristol septet have just delivered the finest LP of the year (it’s only January, but they’ve already set the bar), and at the Ruby Lounge proved they still have the stagecraft to go with that studio flair.
Whether darting back and forth across stage or leaping off the bass drum (guitarist Mike Youe somehow not cracking his head on the ceiling), there’s always plenty to marvel at. The fact that they write and perform such great songs is just a bonus in that respect.
And while head honcho Gerard Langley let us know early on this was no nostalgia trip, we still got to savour plenty of past gems alongside all 10 tracks from Welcome, Stranger!
They started with a blistering take on latest single Dead Tree! Dead Tree! And while the sound was soupy at first – the techies’ work cut out in this quirky venue – the on-stage mayhem quickly warmed us on a cold winter’s night.
In most clubs, obstructive pillars would be a curse, but it somehow added to the vibe here, not least the moments when the band switched places and re-emerged from shadows.
Most notably that included veteran ‘Planes’ dancer, Wojtek Dmochowski, sweating profusely, his ‘Keep Corbyn’ t-shirt soon in two hues of red.
At times we winced as the band took avoiding action. Those instruments hurt. But although I won’t go as far as suggesting there’s a level of choreography, they somehow dodged too many injuries.
While there are plenty of guest vocalists for this revered art combo with the revolving door policy, there’s very little introduction from Gerard L. It could be slicker, but I’m glad it’s not.
Yr Own World, from ’91, was the first song to get us reminiscing, but new song Retro Moon packs a punch too. It just needs a bit of bedding in.
For a man talking apps on Looking for X’s on a Map, I’m pleased to see the front-man hasn’t succumbed to on-stage technology. If anything, his jotter book of lyrics is even bigger, as grand as the poetry within.
When the band got to Sweet, Like Chocolate, there was a sense of ‘why do I know this?’ around me, the rock treatment of a dance hit throwing Manchester’s gigging public.
What It Is from 1990’s Swagger gave me my first goosebump moment, the swirling, sweet cacophony of guitar majesty every bit as good as 27 years ago, bass player Chris Sharp and drummer John Langley calling the tune and guitarists Youe, Bec Jevons and Gerard Starkie expertly weaving in and out.
At that point the poet out front made way for his namesake Starkie, neatly reintroducing me to lesser-heard Rodney Allen song Missy Lane, somehow misplaced among so many other greats until now.
That was followed by an almost Leonard Cohen-like Oak-Apple Day from 2011’s Anti-Gravity, a prelude to new cuts Walking Under Ladders, Nothing Ever Happens in the Future and Skin, the latter Breeders-like rocker neatly executed by Ms Jevons.
There was also Elvis Festival at some stage, band and crowd in their element, and while the cowbells were missing, brother Langley never skipped a beat at the back.
It was only a matter of time before the mighty Jacket Hangs then And Stones, us taken down There and Back Again Lane, in a manner of speaking.
Then came Here is the Heart of all Wild Things, those wondrous six-stringers to the fore again in a frantic finish.
We finally got Chris up front to deliver Beatsongs’ splendid Fun, and let’s face it, we were having plenty.
Either side of the new album’s epic finale Poetland there were more covering blasts from the past, both BA staples, starting with Bob Dylan’s I Wanna Be Your Lover.
And there could be no other closing statement before we braved the gathering snow than Tom Verlaine’s Breaking in my Heart, the band’s live signature tune.
While no one showed up from the support – missing their chance to shine on A and D – it was a perfect showstopper, the Aero’s truly spent by the close, another top night of rock and indeed roll – as Gerard L put it – complete.
The tour continues this weekend at Newcastle’s 02 Academy 2 (Friday, January 13th), Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms (Saturday, January 14th) and Glasgow’s Stereo (Sunday, January 15th). For details of that and the next nine dates (up to Exeter’s Phoenix Arts Centre on Sunday, January 29th) head here.