The pop of Manchester quartet Dutch Uncles is a rather heady concoction of styles and instrumentation, and critical acclaim has come easily to them. If the charts were formed of the consent of music critics, they would be a constant fixture in the upper echelons. As it is, they’ve not yet acquired the popularity to match it. Their newest record, O Shudder, is their most ambitious, as they try to project a complex image of thirtysomething life. It’s their job at KOKO to encourage the crowd that those struggles are worth dancing to.
It feels slightly rushed, since they have to wind things up before a fun-loving bunch of indie clubbers descend at the stroke of 10 o’clock. This is a solid and satisfying 75-minute set that takes its time to really get going – as much as it’s an accomplishment for Dutch Uncles to headline KOKO, it’s not necessarily filled to the rafters, which might explain why the show doesn’t properly warm up until a third of the way through as punters keep rolling into the venue after the first song.
However, when eveything does click, it’s pleasantly intricate, arty and unusual yet free from pretension. The only time that they alter the formula is when they bust out Cadenza and the rapid rock of Dressage; both are exactly the kind of songs a Friday night demands. They’re also not averse to a bit of quirkiness – out of nowhere, a muppet version of singer Duncan Wallis mounts one of the amps to sing along to Decided Knowledge (and is apparently too expensive to crowdsurf). By the time the evening draws to a close with an extended and particularly groovy Be Right Back, they’ve managed to fully hit their stride.
Wallis himself as an utterly magnetic stage presence, though one wouldn’t guess that initially. He appears on stage with shirt nearly tucked-in and businesslike. However, once he’s finished playing the opening chimes of Babymaking, he’s allowed to go full throttle with mannerisms that heavily recall David Byrne. Not only that but his falsetto vocals are on fine form, hitting all his trademark high notes with ease. As for the rest of the band, the set is dominated by precise musicianship and attention-to-detail.
Dutch Uncles may not conquer the world any time soon, but there’s not a trace of arrogance in their bones, and their enthusiasm is infectious enough to make them highly watchable. Live they are, rhythmically, just as tight as they are on record, they are bursting at the seams with catchy melodies, and a fair few bands would surely kill for a frontman like Wallis. Additionally, just like their albums, the performance takes a while to fully appreciate. Whilst there are no fireworks, there’s much to enjoy.