Monday 30 January 2023

Meryl Streek / Products - Manchester Deaf Institute - 28th January 2023

Meryl Streek's 796 album was one of last year's most striking and important releases. Musically diverse, fuelled by the anger at the state of his native Ireland, the way religious and political power has corrupted society and its consequences. On Saturday he brought the album and his predominantly solo show to the Lodge of the Deaf Institute in Manchester supported by Products.

We couldn't find anything about Products online before the show. We wondered if that, combined with the practically unsearchable name, was intentional, a statement of art above all. It might well be, but it turns out that it's only the Manchester / Dublin duo's second ever gig. Their music is pretty spot on though - the duo making a formidable noise, driven along by the drums. We don't get names but the drummer is phenomenal, whether she's sat on the plastic chair or stood up. The energy in the seven songs which clock in at around seventeen minutes is primal and powerful - and it comes from the drums. The guitar and vocals are carried along on their weight, the first song sounding like a ringer for The Fall, but diversifying as the set progresses. Bad Music is introduced as a counter to people asking about good music and there's a repetition to final track Napoli Boys that's so enduring it keeps popping into our head two days later. It may not be the most groundbreaking or inventive set, but it doesn't need to be if it's this good.

There's a sense of anticipation building as the lights go out, save for a torch that makes it way through the audience in the hands of tonight's protagonist. Meryl Streek's album 796 is a vicious sniping attack on the pillars that run modern society and he takes no prisoners as he dismembers them. Before he even makes it to the stage, news snippets about child abuse in the Catholic Church back home in Ireland blast out of the speakers, key phrases repeated before a piercing scream kicks in and the chaos begins. No one escapes his vitriol as he prowls the stage, false eyes staring menacingly at everyone from the front of the packed Lodge to the back to the point that you can't look at him without being disturbed by it.

Musically the set shifts from pounding drum beats to electronic strings and back without the seams showing, a flow that sits beneath the barked accented vocals and makes their delivery even more disconcerting. When he shouts "I wake up scared and I want to be heard, I made this song for all of you" it feels like he's putting himself on the line for those unable to stand up for themselves. Not more so than on the album's lead track Death To The Landlord, which takes a violent tongue to those who prosper from other's need for a roof above their head - "your day will fucking come" - and the "fucking pricks" at the BBC and the RTE that refuse to shed a light on it. There's a real juxtaposition as he gets the audience to clap along to his macabre thoughts of how to deal with the problem.

Matter Of Fact is dedicated to the "cunts that work in the music industry" as he takes aim at Hot Press and those that look down on him and his art. He's joined by a woman, who he doesn't introduce, for the next few tracks and she screams out spelling HELL on Demon which finishes with the unapologetic "I'm sorry if my music makes you emotional, but these stories need to be told" before screeching to a halt. She sings 796, the song title coming from the number of children that died in an orphanage back in Ireland. The subject matter is the darkest, but it's set against a backing track that's light in comparison - until the final moments where he reels off the death toll by year. 

Meryl Streek's message isn't just about vitriol to those that do us wrong. There's a more compassionate protective inward looking side to his music. Suicide is dedicated "to your loved ones or best friends because we all have someone" and the final song, from his next album, is about his Uncle Paddy, a man he admired for his outlook on life, educating himself and refusing to conform to the system's expectations. It's a contrast to the onslaught on the evils of capitalist society that's gone before it, but even more affecting because of it as it highlights the real personal cost of the consequences. 

That Meryl Streek manages to remain so targeted with his anger given the subject matter he tackles is an extraordinary feat, it's music to unsettle you, jolt you out of your comfort zone and see the world for what it really is.

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