Gig review: The Wave Pictures @ First Chop Brewing Arm, Salford

For anyone nervous that the Wave Pictures’ 2014 UK tour would consist of Daniel Johnston covers, such feelings would have been natural.

But in their Salford set on Saturday night, the band put any such snivelling naysayers in their places from the get-go.

With a carefully selected set of songs from their one-time American employers’ album Artistic Vice, the younger musicians did him credit.

Following on from a successful tour in Spain performing the album, the band, who at one time performed in the shadows of the acclaimed musician, took the decision to continue playing the songs in the UK.

Initially, the band’s bassist Franic Rozycki explained, they had toyed with the idea of covering a Rolling Stones album instead.

It is no small mercy that this idea was scrapped.

To say that Johnston and the Wave Pictures’ front-man David Tattersall are sister souls is a stretch.

Tattersall is a gentle Leicester boy with the face and voice of an angel, while Johnston is a similarly kindly but sporadically institutionalised totem of US lo-fi, sadly as much known for his bouts of mania as anything else.  

But the resonances between Tattersall’s voice and that of Johnston are striking.

Beginning with Artistic Vice’s opening track, My Life is Starting Over Again, the Wave Pictures kicked off strongly.

The album is known for being the first the artist recorded following a much-reported psychotic episode that saw him sectioned in the first throes of his career.

Of the Johnston songs performed by the group the best was I Killed a Monster, which was almost more enjoyable than the original.

The best thing about a live-set by the Wave Pictures is that they put into evidence a nonchalantly brilliant pacing as well as stylishly lethargic but on-task guitar work.

This just does not come across through the headphones.

In recorded albums audiences could, if they were being ungenerous, dismiss them as the Mystery Jets without a Topshop card.

In the flesh they are a much bigger deal than that.

In this way, of their own songs, the most captivating by a mile was Sweetheart.

Initiated on a request from the crowd, Tattersall moved downstage to murmur into the ears of a bewitched audience of movembered Salford music fans in a heartbeat.

As a train rumbled overhead you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, at which point Tattersall got his sign off on ‘spine-tingling’ and started the application process on ‘heart-stealing  lothario’.

The biggest crowd-pleaser Before this Day from the album City Forgiveness, with its echoes of Paul Simon in its light, fruity guitar work, demonstrated the wholesale wrongheadedness of a Pitchfork review that had dismissed the band as ‘lyrics first’.

So upbeat was the song that following its final bars members of the audience turned to each other with goofy winsome grins.

Close by, Marc Riley, daddy of the UK music scene, smiled in turn – his approbation a boon to any band.

The Wave Pictures will release their next album Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon, a collaboration with Billy Childish, on February 16 2015.

Image courtesy of Paul Hudson, with thanks

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