The Mutton Birds address the one missing puzzle piece: A "plugged" live LP is what their loyal fans would wish for, and Live in Manchester is the perfect expression of that otherwise often disappointing form. This CD is one complete concert without cheating overdubs. The set is well-rounded, the sound is excellent and sympathetic to the band's strengths, and the playing is sharp and ebullient -- a rare combo. Without a chart hit, five years removed from a major deal with Virgin U.K., they could still tour England once a year, release something like this annually, and remind listeners of the timelessness of the band's little corner of the Kiwi/English pop world. Let all the braggart Brit music mag cover faves explode, flame out, and recede; Don McGlashan's honey tunes, exquisite hooks, glistening guitars, and perpetually besotted or besaddened lyrics are clean water for such dirty faces. He has the effect of someone who can make you smile against your wishes when your luck is rotten, like that angelic, genuine friend who appreciates his own small good fortunes and shares yours, the kind you'd help fix a flat at four a.m. His Birds' boundless gift of mellifluous, chiming, crafted guitar music is commendable, too. There are few omissions from their pantheon of prizes, which range from breathless to beguiling to tense to so catchy and moving it kills you, all with verve. A Valentines' Day gig? Perfect for such a gentleman poet/romantic as McGlashan. Just for "While You Sleep," the kind of remarkably unabashed, pure love sentiment that's the dream of everyone, feeling it or receiving it; you're glad this band exists, perseveres, and has nights like this when a crowd gives them two deserved encores for their fortitude. Who wouldn't love these gents?
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