Review and Photography by Nikki Rodgers

What we see before us tonight is a new band. A band changed not only by a difference in line up, but also generally in their attitude to what a live show can achieve. With no opening act, tonight is all about them.

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As the dim pre-show lights glisten against the jewel encrusted microphone of trumpet player Joshua Gawel, a Nicky Wire style feather boa adorns it’s stand. Smoke fills the stage, strobes charge the eyeballs of the crowd and the band literally march in, sporting John McEnroe headbands in a nod to their New York City roots.

Straight from the off, it’s easy to see that in the two years since they last played the Manchester Academy, this is a brand new band. A band once renowned for their catchy subway brass covers of bubblegum pop songs have now taken full ownership of their live show. Much like their contemporaries (The Hot 8, Hypnotic Brass etc) Lucky Chops have realised that their ability to write and perform exciting and inventive brass music is maybe their strongest skill, and simply garnishing the setlist with the occasional slither of a cover version is enough to keep their fanbase of YouTube kids buying tickets time and again.

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This, though, this is different. This is Brass-tallica. The sludgy, deep growl of the sousaphone provides a solid bedrock for what turns out (over the next hour and a half) to be a robust example of what this genre can achieve when you sprinkle a cup of NYC over it. Trombone player and master of ceremonies Josh Holcomb engages with the crowd like a 50’s radio DJ, smoothly barking out orders of enjoyment in the style of Lux Interior, or maybe even Johnny Bravo.

Quite quickly, the audience is invited to learn ‘the dancing baby’, a hip new jive that accompanies their crowd-pleasing ditty ‘Funky Babies’. As mentioned before, the original material is finally taking centre stage in the set and it’s a welcome change. This band seems to have matured over the last couple of years, they look different, they sound different and the only thing that seems the same is the contagious level of energy they spray onto their audiences.

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That’s not to say the covers have disappeared though, and neither should they; that’s this band’s bread and butter. That being said, they’re certainly displaying a more genre-bending way of playing other people’s songs than we’ve seen before. They move effortlessly between jazz, funk, disco…even Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ is disguised as some kind of sick mind-game-nu jazz-Louisiana funk masterpiece, pushed through the lens of their deep south stable mates. The obvious links to New Orleans in the genre aren’t a crutch for this band though, more of a tool. This is a New York City act through and through.

They prove that time and again, whether it be with their Larry Levan/Paradise Garage infused version of ‘The Macarena’, or their take of the Spice Girls’ ‘Say You’ll Be There’ which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a James Chance compilation.

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It’s not all mirrorballs and confetti, though. Some of the technical ability displayed by these players is breath-taking. One minute, they’re ordering the crowd to sit down as they shift the dynamics down to a pin-drop-hearing level (you can actually hear them pushing the keys on their instruments), the next they’re engaging in a jazz battle between Gawel and drummer Charles Sams. Good live jazz looks as though it hurts to play, not emotionally, but physically, and this does, in a BadBadNotGood kind of way.

After a few more heavy hitters, we’re subjected to an experimental medieval tambourine Odyssey, as Daro Behroozi switches his sax for a bass clarinet. It sounds unfair to say, but Lucky Chops are seriously achieving something miraculous here. A starry-eyed audience of internet-soaked millennials are, in a way, being tricked into enjoying a mix of acid jazz and experimental no-wave on a Tuesday evening on the outskirts of Manchester. That’s pretty special. That isn’t to belittle Lucky Chops’ audience in any way, of course! It’s a real mixed bag of people from all walks of life, but all intent on enjoying themselves and being good to each other. One nearby 7ft gentleman is seen to be disguising himself in front of a roof supporting post so as not to get in anyone’s way. Considerate.

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As the end of the show is nearing, this sweat-doused crowd has been worked up into a frenzy, but Lucky Chops are not finished with us yet. The way these instruments of tradition have been adulterated and exploited is inspiring. By the end of one number the brass is sounding more like an orchestra of bass synths in a punk disco rave nightmare, with sousaphones being balanced on shoulders and drums being played as though they’d been programmed. We’ve left 70’s NYC and landed in Detroit circa 1988.

The show finishes on an intense disco-fuelled medley of covers, starting with ‘Eye of the Tiger’, moving through ‘Mr Saxobeat’ and ‘Funkytown’, finally culminating in an eardrum bursting rendition of James Brown’s ‘I feel good’. The boys take their well-deserved curtain call and march off stage in formation, the same way they had arrived just a little bit earlier on, but this time playing a loving (if cobbled together) tribute to ‘Football’s Coming Home’ in a tip of the hat to tomorrow’s world cup semi-final. Singing along all the way out of the venue, the exhausted audience make their way home.

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It’s odd. These instruments were designed to be brash orchestral statements in the composer’s arsenal and have been in service all over the world for centuries. They’ve leant themselves to some of the most inspiring and formative musical moments in human history, from classical music, through to big band, jazz, funk and beyond. With that in mind, a person stood in a room watching six men re-evaluate what brass instruments can create is forced to ponder…

Is it possible that when he sat down to write his 5th symphony, Ludwig Van Beethoven foresaw what his beloved horn section would be doing in 210 years’ time? Did he envisage that a group of music students from New York would do this with it?

Most likely, no, but it’s worth a bet that if Big Lud have been present this evening, he’d have sat quietly in a corner with a smirk on his face, took a sip of scotch, and said: “Yes, Yes, Yes!”

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