Preceding the eagerly awaited Inspiral Carpets, Alterkicks proved to be much more than a mere appetizer. Wowing the crowd with a storming show, the Liverpool-based five-piece, who have also supported Larrikin Love and The Automatic during the last year, are surely a major headline act in the making.
Although comparisons are inevitable, the Alterkicks’ retro sound is not as quirkily psychedelic as fellow Scousers The Coral and The Zutons, but it does boast strong melodies and soaring vocal harmonies. The band have released several outstanding singles since 2005, including the Spanish-tinged Do Everything I Taught You and the irresistibly catchy On a Holiday, with the new inspiringly upbeat Good Luck about to come out.
Here they showed they can deliver the goods live too, including an impressive vocal performance from frontman Martin Stilwell. With their debut album produced by indie Midas man Stephen Street due out this spring, watch this space.
The Inspiral Carpets’ time in the limelight may have ended when they split up in 1994 but they still command a loyal following when they periodically reunite to perform live. As the last night of their national tour – to promote the new digital album of B-sides and out-takes, Keep the Circle – the lads were in celebratory mood. Singer Tom Hingley claimed “This has been our most enjoyable tour ever.” Maybe they always say that (and maybe they always mean it) but they certainly seemed to revel in the crowd’s nostalgic adulation at the Empire.
Oldham’s finest flourished, of course, as part of the ‘Madchester’ scene in the late ’80s/early ’90s, albeit alongside more talented bands like the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Charlatans. Nonetheless, the Inspirals’ brand of psychedelic revivalism, dominated by Clint Boon’s dynamic Hammond organ-playing, notched up 13 top 40 hits. They also famously gave Noel Gallagher his big break in rock’n'roll (as a roadie) and were noted for their cow-emblazoned ‘Cool as Fuck’ T-shirts – hence the occasional bizarre sound of mooing from the audience.
During the band’s 90-minute set, the exuberant Hingley pogoed and waved his arms around tirelessly, and actually sang quite well too, and Boon’s organ wizardry seemed as good as ever, while a back screen displayed kaleidoscopic images. All the songs were received with rapturous applause, from early single Joe, to anthems such as This Is How It Feels, Two Worlds Collide and Saturn 5, and the more punky I Want You – sadly minus Mark E. Smith.
The only guest appearance was made by the distinctly sozzled and bewildered Danny McNamara of Embrace, dragged on stage to say hi to an equally nonplussed audience. But maybe he was just confused by all the cattle sounds coming from the auditorium.