The opening night of the In the City showcase, a Manchester, UK event brought to NYC for the first time by Factory Records’ founder Tony Wilson, rolls into Knitting Factory with a perfect pairing of British rock, both new and not so new. And really, who needs a past-their-prime Happy Mondays when you’ve got a coupling like this?

It’s the first time here for the Pigeon Detectives, a young Leeds band selling out Irving-sized clubs like London’s Astoria in minutes, and the Rakes, Londoners who’ve already come and conquered America more than once with releases on Dim Mak and the now-defunct V2 label. The Franz Ferdinand show at Bowery Ballroom tonight didn’t seem to affect attendance–the room is packed with tight cliques of UKers and NYers all ready for a good time.

“We are the Pigeon Detectives, all the way from England,” PD’s singer Matt Bowman shouts, at least four times during the band’s first American set. Bowman has that amiable, bratty, Northern rocker demeanor that pulls the crowd in immediately. In fact, everyone in the room would’ve eaten out of the palm of his hand by the second song.

The Pigeon Detectives have obviously studied tour mates like Kaiser Chiefs and learned some key stage tricks. The art of keeping the set moving along without dead air seems to be their golden rule. Like Ricky Wilson, Bowman has all the classic spastic rock jumps down pat. When he’s not jumping, he’s throwing air punches, tugging at his shirt or pouring water over his head. Better yet, he eases into between-song banter with sharp quips like: “Somewhere in this country tonight, 2,000 Americans are watching Razorlight. Consider yourselves lucky!” He constantly lasso’s his mic chord around à la Roger Daltry, treating it so fiercely, that halfway through the set, the mic can’t help but to fly off the end, nearly pummelling one of the guitarists.

There isn’t anything that stands out as truly original about the Pigeons’ songs: they’ve got a healthy sprinkling of Strokes-like guitars here, the leather-jacket-clad gang/lads style of Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things there, with a nice dose of Cribs, Kaisers and even some Killers-tinged pop licks intertwined throughout. Yet the simplicity of their party-vibe love songs is infectious and is just what this late-night audience needs. Undeniably, the Pigeons have culled some mean pop songs.

Yes, ninety-nine percent of the Pigeons’ tunes center around young love crushes, late drunken nights and tiresome ex-girlfriends, but really, fans like theirs don’t always need the craftier wit of an Alex Turner or Kapranos to get them pogo’ing, clapping and shouting back choruses.

Top track “I’m Not Sorry”, (yet another diatribe on ex-girlfriends) is saved for last, as it should be, given that it’s now quite an indie dance club staple back on UK turf. In true salesman style, Bowman leaves the audience by plugging the Pigeon Detectives’ name and their album, reminding us that there’s a nice choice of free tracks up for the taking online. Ah, the beauty of MySpace.

It’s almost 1am when the Rakes take the stage, and by this point, the crowd is indeed restless. Yet the beer flows on. (Most of the crowd is English, what do you expect?).

The Rakes first brave a new song, which is lost amidst a stage sound so poor that Alan Donohoe’s vocals are buried in an inaudible mess. Aptly, this may have been the new hit called “The World Was Perfect But His Hair Was A Mess” but it was hard to discern. Other new ones, like “When Tom Cruise Cries” (a clever take on Cruise’s breakdown in the film Magnolia), and “We Danced Together” prove more memorable live.

Luckily, both band and sound bounce back quickly with a set played so fast it’s like Rakes-on-speed, packed with enough hits from Capture/Release to keep everyone satiated, dancing and fully oblivious to the wee hour. Does anyone else notice the new keyboard player, barely noticeable since he’s tucked away in a dark, back corner of the stage?

As a huge Rakes fan, it doesn’t get much better than hearing a tight grouping of favorites like “22 Grand Job”, “Violent”, “Retreat” and “Strasbourg”, and down the line, “Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)”. Alan Donohoe has become even more the maniacal marionette, spewing strange anecdotes that trail off into the abyss, or offering wide-eyed exclamations like “Smashing!” during any given moment between songs. Donohoe’s sliver-thin limbs are in a constant state of flux, battling the smoky air with an odd, herky-jerky grace. It’s become his signature dance, mimicked the world over (perhaps). There’s no question as to how this singer stays so slight, and what a cutting example of the band’s name! Guitarist Matthew Swinnerton is just as “on” tonight, and when the sound is good, his guitar sound is exceptional, cutting through the vibrant melodies with an amazing, steely edge.

Aside from the opener, there’s just one other track from Ten New Messages that doesn’t fair at all well. Once again, the sound is so poor on this one that it’s tricky to decipher. It still stands out since it’s the only time in which Donohoe attempts to play the guitar. Bad idea, but one that’s easy to forgive. In Donohoe’s hands, at least the instrument takes on another life as an extended, lanky appendage or a Talking Heads-ian prop, quite like the absurd, over-stuffed pillow cell phone Donohoe picks up during the final stretch of the Rakes’ bombastic, racy set. –MVW/photos by Tear-n-Tan

 
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