Champions League Final? Well, there was no way that could ever live up to either semi, and perhaps this was my show of support for Ajax, nipping down to Manchester, erm, City to catch another Amsterdam outfit with youth on their side and the promise of great things to come.
In fact, they’re already there on this showing, Pip Blom on stonking form on Saturday night in the intimate setting of the Northern Quarter’s Band on the Wall. What’s more, they mentioned mid-set how they’ve now played Manchester more than Amsterdam and London … the venues getting that little bit bigger each time.
I’m not sure if it was because there was a big match going on in Madrid, those who couldn’t make it there watching it elsewhere, but I somehow reached Swan Street within 45 minutes and was thus early for a gig for the first time in an eternity, with time to spare before the first support. And we youngest daughter and I were truly treated for our loyalty, by all three bands.
We hadn’t realised there were two guest acts, but each impressed. There weren’t so many in for Jacob Slater, but the frontman enticed us to move closer, seizing the moment, a mighty seven-song, half-hour salvo showing true range and future promise, with plenty of big, wide soundscapes provided.
The first of three two-guitar acts, Hertfordshire-based Jacob and his band were good ’n’ loud, the throbbing bass and Thom Yorke-like lead vocal leaving a big impression on early song ‘Butterflies’. They carried a passion found in early U2, but with more catchy tunes for these ears, closer to The Stars of Heaven or Grant McLennan, voice-wise, with a few Cure-esque chord progressions thrown in, and real maturity in those melodies. And you couldn’t fault Jacob’s full-on passion throughout.
Not having checked stage times, I assumed the first support were actually the second. But next we got Talk Show, and they too impressed, the floor busier as we were treated to a South-East London outfit offering something different again but no less enthralling, stand-outs like the single ‘Fast and Loud’ carrying early Stranglers menace.
Think Happy Mondays with Flowered Up-like vocals, built on a Stone Roses-like rhythm section with plenty of raucous guitar. Frontman Harrison Swann certainly has stage presence, in our faces from the start, his bleached cropped tresses just visible in the front row as he jumped down with his highly-strapped guitar.
His prancing struts with the bass player also entertained, the latter mooching around like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, while the lead guitarist preferred the moody approach and the first of the night’s eye-catching female drummers wore a smile as wide as the stage at times, loving every moment yet as good as collapsing on her kit after their most frenetic number. Another band to watch.
After those dynamic sets, Pip and her band had something to live up to, but did so in style, on a night that underlined that they’re a band on the cusp of big things. When they do hit those heights, we risk it not being half as intimate, but that’s not the point. It’s about the moment, and this show was perfect, not least in its occasional imperfections.
I get the impression Pip’s a reluctant or at least slightly self-conscious frontwoman, even if her band do take her name. And that’s neatly illustrated by her lining up on one flank while her brother, fellow guitarist and backing vocalist Tender, takes a mirror position. Yep, back to those football analogies. These are no wingless wonders.
Meanwhile, in the middle is the beating heart of this band, with Darek Mercks out front – in baseball cap and Beatles t-shirt – and Gini Cameron keeping it all together from the rear, Pip’s bass and drum duo giving the Blom siblings room for those Cruyff turns. And on that foundation comes not just raw guitar to make the heart surge, but also distinctive vocals, the blend of the pair often spot on.
At times they remind me of Blur, at others The Primitives, and occasionally The Breeders, Girls at our Best, The Sugarcubes, or even Elastica or Lush somewhere. But this is no retrogressive outfit. It’s more about an infusion of quality influences given a fresh twist, and thankfully all still rather raw.
Besides, perhaps I only bring to mind such acts because Pip Blom make me feel like I’m in my early 20s again, their music and presence with the power to pull that off. And it’s not just the Dutch roots setting them apart. There’s more to it than that, the love and excitement they inspire out on the floor working both ways, the band raising their game throughout.
They started without drama, just getting down to it, the wire flamingos on each side of the stage lit up in pink as the Wedding Present-like slow-build of Boat’s side two opener ‘Tinfoil’ took hold, pathing the way for one of my early favourites from that long player, ‘Don’t Make It Difficult’, then angular wonder ‘Tired’, with barely a half-beat lapsing before Pip strummed out the intro of lo-fi larrikin ‘School’ and they were off again, Darek’s chugging bass and Gini’s drum patterns laying down the foundation upon which the Bloms could carve out that gloriously scratchy guitar and vocal blend.
Ragged early single ‘Babies Are A Lie’ charmed next, the band fully warmed up, ready to tackle the wondrous ‘Ruby’, which grows on me with every play, bringing to mind early Catatonia or The Sundays.
Harmonies remained a factor, Tender’s lower register perfectly complementing his sister’s lead vocal again on ‘Sorry’ -her personal favourite from Boat right now, she suggested – before familiar off-kilter bendy guitar ushered in playground bruiser ‘Come Home’, the band stoking up for a big finish.
Pip’s beaming smile at the crowd interaction was a joy to see, performance levels still rising, the band nothing short of electric as they tore into ‘I Think I’m In Love’, their first great pop indie pop exclamation mark – playing in my head on the lead-up to the LP’s release – followed by their next, the similarly-mighty ’Daddy Issues’.
For me the highpoint followed, our Dutch masters paring down, just Gini’s percussion and Pip and Tender’s harmonies there at the business end before they all stormed back in for a final no-holds barred chorus. Sublime.
And where from there? I kind of hoped for at least a couple more Boat selections, maybe with the splendid ‘Set of Stairs’ followed by the brooding ‘Aha’. But instead themoggy-licious ‘Pussycat’ served that same ‘big canvas’ purpose, providing a gloriously-grand, rip-roaring finish. All power to their fretboards, and here’s to the next visit, which can’t come soon enough.
To catch up with WriteWyattUK’s recent interview with Pip Blom, head here. And for more about the band, new album Boat, remaining early summer dates, festival appearances and newly-revealed details of autumn European (and yes, the UK is still part of all that, he adds huffily) and US tours, try their official website and follow the band via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.