Liverpool Sound City 2013: Thomas J. Speight, Fist City, Mise en Scene, Laura J. Martin, Bleech, 16 Hole Boots: Leaf, Sound Food and Drink, Kazimier Gardens, Shipping Forecast, The Brink
Liverpool Sound City serves up fist-pumping punk, garden frolicking and hand-cut cajun fries, Getintothis' Orla Foster drains her body and coffers dry.
The snarling, don't-care, heavily eyelinered attitude of 16 Hole Boots forms an interesting contrast against the clatter of teacups and croque monsieurs at The Brink.
Their hearts clearly lie back in 1977. Maybe it's too early in the evening for this, but their intentions are good.
Afterwards, we descend to the bowels of the Shipping Forecast to catch Bleech's set. It's unexpectedly brilliant.
Singer/guitarist Jennifer O'Neill has the confidence of a headlining act, even if her bandmate (and sister) does cringe a little at her between-song spiel. With her long cascading hair flung back and forth in an endless frenzy, she revels in thrusting her guitar before the monitor until it squeals like it's being burned alive. Bleech like feedback, a lot. They're bratty, bold and unfazed - and more convincing than most of bands peddling a similar 90s grunge-inflected sound right now.
Bleech - bratty, bold and rather brilliant
Once we emerge, the Kazimier Gardens draw us in. It's always a pleasure to catch a performance from Laura J. Martin, who combines virtuoso flute-playing with expansively looped arrangements and a truly creative approach to songwriting.
Miraculously, the more the temperature drops, the more people appear in the courtyard, captivated by her talent and charisma. "This one's about domestic relationships and cockfighting," she cheerfully introduces piano ballad The Lesson. She can always get a laugh out of the crowd, particularly when, upon tuning her mandolin, she declares that she is "taming the beast" - only to immediately apologise.
She's followed by Mise en Scene, a female-fronted garage band from Winnipeg, who are as dazzling as their golden cardigans (is this something of a theme this year?).
They rattle through an empowered set in something of a Dum Dum Girls vein. Having met at art school, it's obvious the band have a deep rapport and look as though they're really enjoying themselves, trading grins and knowing looks throughout.
They've got the perfect setting too; though it's a little cold there's a real holiday atmosphere at the Kazimier Gardens, an enclosure so softly lit and rustically furnished (a bell tower, no less) you could pretend you're in a Mediterranean courtyard far from Concert Square.
Strain your ears and you can almost hear the crickets chirping. And we couldn't be happier about the tireless chefs in the corner keeping everyone gloriously engorged on chilli and hand-cut cajun fries.
Christine and the Queens - just one of the many highs in Kazimier Gardens
There's more Canadian action over at Sound Food and Drink, where Alberta's finest rugged punks Fist City are tearing up the place. It's unclear whether the crowd are long-term devotees or just stumbled in on this band by accident, but whatever it is, they're dancing like crazy, alight with excitement and running on stage to sing along, while the band themselves take turns to run into the crowd. They finish with two covers, including Devo's Uncontrollable Urge which unleashes yet further euphoria.
In the hope of cooling off again, it's over to Leaf for Thomas J. Speight, a singer-songwriter who evokes Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: warm harmonies and whispered confidences.
Towards the end of his set, he attempts a rather ambitious trajectory, weaving a path through the crowd with his guitar cable and performing from a table at the other end of the room. He pulls it off, however, and the room is holding onto every note.
He closes his set with, Far Away - "a song about long distance relationships" - and invites the audience to dedicate it to whomever they choose. A couple of audience members chime in about their mates' transatlantic heartaches. It's all rather intimate.
Finally, he announces that he is selling t-shirts for £3 - "less than it costs to buy a pint in Liverpool". Too bad we already drained the coffers buying said pints.
Pictures by Getintothis' Conor McDonnell, Tom Adam and Marie Hazelwood.