Over the years, LIPA’s 2ube has developed into something like Liverpool’s own Later… Streamed live and showcasing glimpses into the depth of talent the wonderful Performing Arts Institute has to offer. From the cameras and the sound to, of course, the performers, it represents a proud and very necessary area in Liverpool’s cultural ring. The culmination of all this, however, is the two weeks of their 2ube Xtra, which, if we wish to keep the analogy going, plays the role of Liverpool’s very own Hootenanny. Exhibiting the third years’ showcases before they leave LIPA for other pastures, my Tuesday viewing promises, on paper, to be one of the most entertaining of the entire two weeks. Entertaining, indeed, turns out to be a particularly appropriate term, as the entire line-up ensures the Paul McCartney Auditorium is to bear witness to a special evening of music.
The night is initiated by math/post-rock four-piece We Can Be Astronauts, who pummel their audience with a barrage of big choruses and jagged, interlocking guitars. Not so distant from the likes of early Biffy Clyro, the band deliver on producing a set which is not only full of vigour and variation instrumentally, but also a vocal performance which, despite an uncertain start, grows as the set proceeds. New releases such as ‘Glass and Grit’ steal the show, though there is plenty to chew on throughout. The introduction of a string section fails to make a huge amount of difference, though it matters little; the crowd are whipped up, and there can be no doubt that We Can Be Astronauts leave their all on the stage, rightfully exiting standing tall.
Asterisks, next on stage, take their influence from a rougher and more abrasive corner of the musical world. With the addition of a new drummer and an extra guitarist since I last saw them at Oxjam, they translate the raucous, unbridled nature of their only recorded track thus far, ‘Tell Me Something’, on to stage in a wild and intense showing. Despite some technical issues regarding the bass, their style of dense, muddied grunge-rock is delivered exactly as it should be; intense, imperfect, and reckless. Again, the vocals occasionally dampen the fire – a combination of some slightly misplaced backing vocals and over-exerted lead vocals – but they detract little from the feral dynamic the band embody so completely.
The tendency for most bands is to stick to what they know, an acknowledgement that if you try and put your fingers in too many pies, it’s rarely going to end well. Tiger Factory clearly never got that memo. A fact that, on tonight’s basis, we should all be thankful for. Easily the biggest surprise of the evening, the band’s emphatic brand of hip-hop/rock is as tight as it was eccentric, as efficient as it is joyous. Vocalist Harry Murell seamlessly switches from rapping to singing, equally comfortable and proficient with both. A couple of the tracks take the shine from their set a little, and when the tracks aren’t quite as strong, the band can come across as a little overzealous. Regardless of such misfires, Tiger Factory prove there is serious substance beneath the playful veneer, a unique sort of substance you don’t come across too often, thus making it all the more intriguing when one does.
Ending proceedings is Whitecliff, whose set proved to take the longest to kick in to gear of the evening. Musically tight and able to boast strong stage presence, their set begins a little slow, before growing in stature with each subsequent track. With the Auditorium at its busiest all evening, the buzz feeds Whitecliff’s performance, as both spectators and band become progressively more enthused and engaged with the material on display. Paradoxically, however, it is Whitecliff’s softest track, ‘Say What You Want’, which truly reflects the talent the band have to offer, and ensures this evening’s 2ube Xtra ends on a profound high.
For spectators, evenings such as this one rely on the culmination of performances to really make it worthwhile. ‘Headliners’ don’t do it; a selection of dedicated, skilled and entertaining acts however does. While I can’t vouch for every third-year LIPA act being able to prove their mettle, what I can vouch for is the extraordinary depth Liverpool can rightfully boast of its musical cohorts. An evening which was both varied and hugely entertaining, it stands as yet another reminder of just how special our local musical culture is, expressed by one of the city’s most important hubs for cultivating such extraordinary talent.