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Kiwi Jr – Live at Gullivers, Manchester: Review (01/02/2020)

I’ve gone to Gullivers, Manchester to review Kiwi Jr’s first outing in the UK (hailing from Canada). To those not in the know, Kiwi Jr are an intriguing indie pop group. A range of notable influences from The Strokes, Pavement and a slew of power pop groups come to mind. Lyrically even a tint of Ray Davies, as the group tackle day to day working class issues, alongside namechecking a number of media figures. Their debut album, ‘Football Money’ is a fleeting record filled with sticky choruses and notable guitar work from Gaudet and Murphy. Some of the diversions in key are some of the freshest guitar work ive heard on a pop record in a while. This, alongside the jagged lyrics make it hard not to grin along to. If you happen to sonically love the work from The Smiths or The Sundays and want an easy album to sink into get your ears on this. Hereby I was intrigued to see the group transplant this energy into a live setting.

This didn’t go entirely to plan. After following signs to the ‘venue’ I am greeted by a fashionable fellow in a Fred Perry and escorted out of the venue by him. He tells me he doesn’t want me listening to his music, although did go in for a handshake. Taking down his name, I half expected to find a magnificent singer songwriter. Awkwardness often brings artists from other planets. Instead I find he fronts a band that sounds like Ed Sheeran with electric guitars, or maybe one of those one hit wonder bands from the 2000s. Goo Goo Dolls type thing. Probably more accurate actually. If that is your thing google ‘Chewing On Tinfoil’.  Come on Stu Daley. Try a bit harder. I will review that as the support act as I managed to miss Kiwi Jr’s.

I find Kiwi Jr upstairs in good time. There are no signposts or anyone on the door leading to this secret venue. I’ve never been to a gig where the staff have no idea who the band are. The crowd are all stood far back from the stage as if the band have influenza. I felt sorry for the group when the crowd engagement is so sparse. A few drunken mancunions make slurred comments between songs. The band respond saying they don’t understand the English accent. The comments weren’t even understood by me, so kudos to them for trying. Here i’ll make a point that their music is more concise than football anthems, even if ‘Leslie’ is on the album. They did deserve a better crowd.

I can’t lick the bands arse all night though. They drink bud light for some reason, and now I can’t listen to ‘Salary Man’ without imagining the group waking up with Bud Light hangovers. I have a theory that there is no actual beer in the stuff. In more seriousness, on cuts like this Gaudet shows the skill of a really great frontman. He has a 12 string electric guitar and is easily the bands soul. He plays with a precision that is fresh in a dried up indie rock scene. He multitasks hopping from one foot to the other while delivering. The rest of the group shadow him, though aren’t bad musicians by any stretch. They also show a quirky personality at times. Moore stops playing drums and puts on a football bib for no reason for example. Diverting back to Salary Man. It’s no bullshit stream of conciousness makes it a notable cut from the record (and a live highlight) that is bound to beat your Monday blues. 

‘Salary man sleep on public benches.
Next to the street.
In their new suits, shiny blue ties.
Polished black boots, scratchy red eyes.
In the morning, crawling to the office.
You can hear them sing “Good morning” to their bosses
.’

The band play for merely 30 minutes. Just over the length of their debut. Bizarrely with more new songs than any released. This being confusing with their debut not being out a month. Their writing drive must be foaming out of the mouth. I can appreciate the experimentation on stage.

Unfortunately the new tracks drag the energy of their set down increasingly. The show was already mixed awfully and the band loose their confidence. They have one new cut introduced as ‘about political voters’. An interesting and brave choice on the first day of post brexit Britain. This is thrown away completely by the almost joking approach the band put forward. Gaudet awkwardly mumbles ‘This song’s relevant today’ before backing up his initial point with ‘but I don’t know much’. The group hold an awkward stance to anyone who might throw punches.  Not knowing much about your lyrical topic and wanting to please everyone is a bit of a worry. Then there is a lack of instrumental diversity. It can look one dimensional and amature when compared to some of the groups other tracks.

Another new cut, ‘Changes’ is almost too familiar. My brain hurt through half of the track. Battling with déjà vu I came upon the conclusion that it sounds exactly like The Strokes ‘Hard To Explain’. Maybe this one needs a new melody. In these songs audience members seem more interested in their phones than the band. Maybe they should take some tips from Jack White’s recent phone ban.

The band themselves (although playing a hit or miss set) tell very engaging stories between cuts. Gaudet mentions being on the wrong side of the road in Leeds. ‘We almost fucking died’ he says before detailing the police following the group, reminding them that they are in England. He asks if there were any football matches in response to busy traffic. I thought he was about to unleash his inner Bill Buford and do his own ‘Among The Thugs’. This in lyrical context could make a rather humorous future song from the group and I hope they follow it up.

The band complete their show with the anthemic ‘Leslie’. A track that deserves a crowd reaction. The band were robbed of this however, as members of the half empty crowd were paralysed completely or getting themselves another pint. Come on. Some backing vocal chants would give these guys some more confidence. I can only present a band in their bare bones for now, but still one who’s indie rock flare has fleeting sparks of potential.

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