Moderat @ Albert Hall, Manchester, 7 Feb

Review by Thomas Short | 03 Apr 2014

The ornate architecture of Trof's prized new venue, the Albert Hall, presents an unusual problem for the gig-goer: the ability to peer directly over the stage from a nearby balcony has the potential to unravel the mystique behind any live performance. This issue is particularly applicable to DJs, who normally occupy a privileged position above the punters at the highest point in the club. Realising this from my unusual vantage point, the prospect of seeing Moderat mime to an Ableton live set suddenly didn't seem so appealing.

Fortunately, Moderat – comprised of Modeselektor's Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, and Apparat, aka Sascha Ring – are not your average button-pushers. Twice winners of RA's live act of the year, their ability to appeal beyond the narrow confines of underground clubland is demonstrated by the unusually broad mix of fans here tonight; ranging from beery uni-lads and sophisticated 20-somethings to middle-aged dads and older. It's not hard to see why.

The supergroup combine a polished take on minimal techno and 2-step with immensely catchy pop verse structures and hooks, which in an alternate universe might have seen them occupying the same stages as, say, Coldplay or Muse. It's a combination they don't always manage to pull off. Bad Kingdom, for instance, opens with a monster of a baseline, before fading into a tacked-on euro-soul chorus that feels like a waste of their considerable musical talents.

Arguably, the trio are at their best when they don't push too hard in either direction. Their storming set-opener New Error combines pre-processed and live elements to great effect, as Bronsert gleefully warps the track's trance-like arpeggios into high-pitched squeals against a stomping beat. It's a real achievement when Ring straps on a Fender for Rusty Nails, because it doesn't feel like an afterthought. His tasteful fretwork blends into Szary's atmospheric synths seamlessly, while their skirmishes into RnB territory – on Gita and Let in the Light – showcase Ring's voice beautifully.

We must also remember that Moderat have had a troubled few months. A nasty motorcycle accident sustained by Ring forced them to push back the dates for their European tour, including an enviable slot headlining Warehouse Project. There is a lot riding on this return to Manchester and, based on the rapturous reception they get this evening, their slightly delayed plans for world-domination seem assured and, even more so, deserved.