With support from fellow label mates In Mirrors and Desire, Portland’s elusive Chromatics finally came out of the shadows, for a while at least, to deliver some dream pop splendour and then vanish once again.
While the surprise release Closer to Grey has sadly not been road-tested, and did not appear at any of their shows, the hype around this tour has been palpable. Chromatics have been so up and down over the past few years; making albums, breaking albums. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d never see them live, yet here they are in Manchester.
After strong support from In Mirrors and Desire, the latter of whom brings their Drive swooner ‘Under Your Spell’ and a Hi-NRG take on the New Order classic ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, Chromatics take to the stage with the pulse of ‘Tick of the Clock’.
It’s a perfect opening, ushering in the distinctive flare of visuals and menacing pulse of synthpop that defines the band, though it’s something of an outlier too. They present as a band here, far more than on record. The drums are played live, and loud: a million miles away from the drum machines and stiff programming of their album sound. The energy is up, with the result that singer Ruth Radelet’s pristine vocals get a little unintelligible at times when the beat steps up.
However it’s thrilling hearing the band play like this, and this energetic and physical performance, far from harming these tracks, amps them up. ‘I Want Your Love’ is a booming, epic piece of sprawling sad pop. ‘These Streets Will Never Look The Same’ emphasises that perfect little melody nestled at the heart of the original version, while ‘Time Rider’ becomes a mid-set highlight.
A noticeably more forceful ‘Night Drive’ flows into the outro of ‘Birds of Paradise’, reflecting the images that the band seem inexorably drawn to: headlights on a dark road under a sprawling matrix of gridlines. Chromatics and their label Italians Do It Better are well known aesthetes at this point, so the fact the visuals are creative, weird and vivid comes as no surprise.
Chromatics may be an unlikely touring band, but they are able to add to their legend in Manchester tonight. The mask may have slipped a little. Ruth Radelet said a few hellos here and there, and nodded to the city’s history of great music. Jonny Jewel was more buoyant than you’d think, attending to his synths with a pogo stance. Yet you leave finding them more enigmatic than ever.