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Been Stellar / Theo Bleak @ YES Basement review -NYC outfit progress out of the little leagues

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Featured image and gallery: Gracie Hall

After 24 hours of continuous rain, the skanky duvet of clouds hovering above Manchester has somehow found even greater concentrations of precipitation to dump on us. More waterfalls than downpours mean that if you have ever fancied learning how to surf in the city centre, Upper Brook Street is the perfect training ground. Cars, vans, and buses scorch through ponds of standing water, kicking up waist-high breakers. It turns out that they’re wonderful at soaking jeans through to the skin, too.

A few increasingly sodden minutes later in the YES Basement, Dundee quartet, Theo Bleak, have the temerity to play a dainty tune called ‘Raining All the Time’. There’s nothing complicated about their songs, but it’s this simplicity and lack of fussiness that helps turn each one into a toe-tapper. Songwriter, Katie Lynch, abandons her guitar midway through the set, left hand gripping the mic stand as she eyeballs the front row, who have coalesced into a semi-circle just outside her right hand’s reach.

“I’ve had a lot of years of people telling me I’m shite,” she tells us before the penultimate track, which shows us a more brooding side, with Lynch swaying self-consciously, awkward at spilling her guts in public. Still, the room ignites into whoops and cheers and even a cat-like “yeeeooooow” from near the merch stall. That should set the record straight for any naysayers.

As the crowd swells to capacity during the changeover, steam rises in volcanic plumes from drenched hair and jackets. Evaporation in visible action mingles with the puny squirts of the venue’s smoke machine, to create a smear of condensation that clings to the ceiling throughout Been Stellar’s performance.

On the cusp of releasing their debut album, ‘Scream From New York, NY’, it’s obvious the quintet is riding a steep upward trajectory from the moment they kick into ‘My Honesty’. Voices ring out from front to back, yelling “Give me a moment and make it my last” back to frontman, Sam Slocum, who responds by bashing the jingle-jangle out of his tambourine. 

Despite wearing their New York influences loud and proud – ‘Manhattan Youth’ is surely a lost classic from the first Strokes album – they filter it through a British sound. The deadly duo of ‘Sweet’, and ‘All in One’ could stand in for peak Swervedriver or Ride, while ‘Kids 1995’ almost redefines what it means to be anthemic. In another galaxy, it’s being played at the end of wedding receptions alongside ‘Mr Brightside’ and ‘Sex on Fire’.  It should be Been Stellar’s retirement fund, simple as that.

Slocum clings to his mic stand, leaning his torso and head at an acute angle as he whelps through the 11 songs, while bassist Nando Dale gyrates every joint from neck to toe as he locks into his groove. Laila Wayans, meanwhile, operates on a different level. Her incensed drumming adds ample thrust throughout while spritzing her clippety-cloppety beats with smart fills and sneaky ghost notes. All this while her in-ear monitor is on the blink.

It’s not all slaps on the back, though. The silence between songs eats Slocum alive, while restrained new single, ‘Pumpkin’, misses the target, although it may be one for the ‘grower’ pile. Been Stellar’s rise has perhaps even caught the band off guard – they could fill the room out twice over – but they return to the city in November when they play the Academy 3. 

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Ian Burke

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