Review: Wintersleep @ Castle Hotel, Manchester

Returning to the UK again for their latest album tour, Canadian rockers Wintersleep descended upon the intimate venue of the Castle Hotel and revived a unique rock sound fading from the indie landscape.

The album takes the band in a different direction, less “in your face and rocky” than the previous album, says vocalist Paul Murphy.

It’s an album about waste. Prior to hitting the stage, Murphy told MM: “There is definitely a lot of themes of, I guess, waste and in, terms of a theme, taking things for granted and taking stock.

“[It’s about] your place in the world and taking stock of that.”

This is exemplified in the album’s artwork, a plastic bag and other waste drifting in the ocean. It touches on themes of time passing, loss, and waste.

The album’s opening track, Surrender, begins: “Thirty six years now / Halfway to my tomb.” Meanwhile, its final song, Free Pour, sombrely professes: Everyone’s smiling, they’re smiling / It pushes me far far away.”

The Castle Hotel is a new venue for Wintersleep, the inside hazy, detailed with varnished wood, dim light, and a dizzying array of draft taps and shelved liquor bottles – hardly seeming a concert venue. Quaint and unassuming, it appeared less of a rock concert spot and more a small village local.

However, the back room is different. The intimate room stage was illuminated with contrasting hues of dark blue and purple-pink, setting a mysterious tone perfectly.

As the band took the stage, quietly sliding through the crowd until they suddenly appeared, the excitement in the air was palpable. The audience boasted a range of people, ages spanning thirty-odd years and styles from the edgy to the dad.

The band opened with the first track from the new album, Surrender. The melodic plucking combined with the tambourine, and Murphy’s voice slowly entered to ease the audience into the show.

A pause, and the band leapt into the chorus. The crowd was pulled in as the band let loose for the first time.

The Canadians became distinctly fuller of rock as the band shifted to Soft Focus, allowing more electric strumming and Loel Campbell to fully explore the drumming extent of the show.

It was then taken back by the band, who treated their fans to the older songs of More Than, Spirit, and Amerika. While the entirety of the group’s show was played with an air that radiated confidence and fun, it was performing their older songs the band came to life.

The interspersion of old and new was a brilliant move on Wintersleep’s part. While sometimes this can be jarring in a concert, creating an air of uncertainty, this was not the case on this occasion. There was a clear logic to the flow of songs, a build and peak followed by a graceful slowing of the tempo.

There wasn’t much doubt about the crowd’s favourite song being Weighty Ghost, wonderfully sandwiched between the Orca, which builds toward the end, and Nothing is Anything (Without You), the beginning of which fits Weighty Ghost almost perfectly.

Wintersleep perfectly understood every person at the show, responding to and feeding off those watching with experienced hands and voices. The delight they took in performing was refreshing and, combined with the venue, made for a superbly unique experience.

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