Frightened Rabbit (live review) – The Art School, Glasgow, 08/03/16

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, March 2016.

Having been given just a week or so’s notice, we are gathered in a full-to-capacity room in the Art School to bear witness to the least-secret secret show Glasgow has seen in a long time. It’s impressive, really, that entirely unknown act ‘FootShooters’ has managed to sell out the place with next to no promotion. What may have worked in their favour, however, is that everyone with a Twitter account (or the Winter of Mixed Drinks track list) is well aware that gracing the stage tonight is the folk-tinged indie rock outfit known as Frightened Rabbit.
Frabbit haven’t played a gig in two years, but it doesn’t show – consistently tight, they’re one of few bands who regularly pull off making their material sound even better live than it does on record. Frontman Scott Hutchison remains a notably sunny character between performing songs which are generally, well, pretty devastating – joking that “you’re Frightened Rabbit fans, you can’t have been that good” after asking the audience how they’d been during the absence. The new tracks sound incredibly promising, marking a growth in sound to the sleeker side of things.
The band gesture their gratitude before leaving the stage and it seems that everyone – this qmunicate reporter included – is adamant that the show isn’t over yet, standing around patiently while some hopefuls throw around ‘The Loneliness And The Scream’ whoa-ohs which would typically be carried down the stairs and out into the rainy evening following a Frabbit set. But the lights go up, stage techs begin to deconstruct the set and there is an air of genuine confusion. Clocking in at less than an hour on stage, it’s difficult not to be left feeling somewhat unsatisfied by tonight’s show, as excellent as it was; thankfully an upcoming album release means they’ll likely be back soon, and hopefully with a few more songs in tow.

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Halsey [live review] – O2 Academy, Glasgow 19/02/16

  

With tonight’s show originally billed for the ABC before being upgraded due to phenomenal demand, the sticky floors of the Academy are full to absolute capacity for Halsey (otherwise known as Ashley Frangipane) to make her Scottish live debut. To describe Halsey as an artist coasting on hype, however, would be to do her a disservice; she very much owes the internet for her discovery and accelerated success, certainly, but the release of 2015’s Badlands (acknowledged by many as a defining pillar in the current wave of moody electropop) and the long list of impressive collaborations and tour spots under her belt confirm that her art has legs to stand on. Currently in the process of emerging as something of a cultural icon, too, Halsey embodies the values of today’s younger music consumer – outspoken, tuned into social issues and unapologetic in her expression of self, but with an advantage on many in the industry as, at just 21 years old, she speaks as part of the generation driving this shared conscience.

That sense of being simultaneously one-of-us and somewhat alien – ethereal, even – is most definitely present during her time on stage tonight, shaved head and thigh-high boots setting a striking silhouette against relentless backlighting. Gasoline serves as a fitting introduction to the set, Halsey’s distinctive timbre asking: ‘Are you insane like me? Been in pain like me?’ in a way which would feel as personal as a whisper were it not for the audience’s volume overpowering her, suggesting that they believe they indeed are and have been. Barely stopping to breathe between tracks, Halsey launches through the majority of her album material with a stage presence that seems almost carnal, crouching and weaving and as desperate for connection as the swell of hands reaching towards her from feet below. A small backing band helps the songs pack more of a punch than their recorded counterparts, though the vocal track used through meatier sections can sometimes be enough to pull you out of the performance momentarily. Fortunately, there’s no risk of this raising questions regarding Halsey’s vocal competency as her voice remains solid throughout the rest of the show, guttural and dulcet all at once.

Where many pop acts struggle to find the balance between visuals which reach unnecessarily distracting levels and visuals which scream half-hearted afterthought, the production of tonight’s show is gloriously effective and stunning at points. A simple angled screen behind the band’s set up displays atmosphere-driven imagery throughout, dipping in and out of solar systems, animated Brooklyn Bridges and a plethora of beautiful colours perfectly timed to enhance the experience without overshadowing the performance. As the music is left to speak for itself, then, Halsey herself speaks considerably little, and keeps it almost exclusively to admissions of love and gratitude for her supporters, though stopping to remind her fans that they “don’t belong to anyone but [themselves]”.

Tonight’s set certainly feels short, but isn’t unreasonable considering her limited bank of material and the ultra-cohesiveness of the tracks. Impressively so considering her relatively short time as a touring artist, Halsey has perfected the art of establishing intimacy in circumstances which should be anything but, performing vulnerability and displaying the strength of doing so in one short hour of raw mid-tempo synthpop. It’s difficult to imagine her material would work particularly well otherwise, however – one can’t imagine that the scores of younger fans in the room tonight can always relate to her stories of sex, drugs, and complex relationships viewed through a 3am haze, but she makes herself accessible in a way that allows fans to see shades of themselves reflected in there anyway. And therein lies her greatest strength.

Despite the motif of honesty pushed through everything Halsey does, she appears at her most genuine as she engages in mutual adoration, gazing deep into the venue and asking: “Who could ever get sick of this?”

The Front Bottoms (live review) – The Garage, Glasgow, 07/02/16

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, Feb 2016.

The positive effect of The Front Bottoms’ signing to Fueled By Ramen in 2015 was made evident when tonight’s show at the Garage sold out well in advance, and the electricity moving through the crowd even before support Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band takes the stage is indisputable. Kevin, a musical veteran when considered alongside tonight’s headliners, brings his own brand of introspective folk rock to bassier levels in his full-band getup; a far cry from his regular solo performances, he bounces across the stage at any given chance throughout a set which is met with a more enthusiastic (though not undeserved) reception than one would necessarily expect from a crowd which seems largely unfamiliar with his material. The vocals are a little low in the mix tonight, which is a shame – though it seems likely that a few of tonight’s attendees will return home to discover for themselves that Kevin really shines lyrically.
As Glasgow welcomes New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms to the stage like heroes, an inflatable ‘TFB’ is haphazardly pushed up behind the drum riser in a manner fittingly unpretentious and fun for a band whose charm lies in the deliberately thrown-together feel laced through their songs. The band pauses in place before beginning their set in a way that suggests they know what they are about to unleash, and sure enough one opening note of older track ‘Flashlight’ is enough to ignite something wild in tonight’s venue. What follows is nearly an hour and a half of pure delight, stream-of-consciousness indie rock at a pace that barely gives the crowd time to rest as they dance and sweat and live out any cliché you can think of which embodies a gig which is just downright fun. As performers TFB are tight, delivering a sound with more body and punch than their recorded efforts. It’s a rare feeling at a show, and something that is the mark of a special one, when there’s an overwhelming sense that the band is the favourite of every single person in attendance – and as the audience’s volume overpowers frontman Brian Sella on almost every word, that certainly seems the case tonight.

Manchester Orchestra – SWG3, 12th April 2014 (live review)

Hidden-away locale SWG3 plays host to what is an intimate treat for many as Sydney troupe Gang Of Youths present themselves to an already buzzing audience. Their set of atmospheric rock tunes appears to go down well, sounding tight and like a band worthy of filling the room themselves.

Manchester Orchestra soon wander onstage, unassuming and not particularly suggestive of a band capable of playing rooms two or three times the size of this evening’s cosy venue. Unsurprisingly, they only need to let their music do the talking – launching into a furious rendition of Shake It Out, the Atlanta indie-rock outfit is thrilling to watch. A powerhouse of sound as they make their way through a fair balance of fan favourites and new material, their songs pack a punch in a live setting that is less evident on record. Andy Hull said of the band’s latest release, COPE, that they sought to create ‘something that’s just brutal and pounding you over the head’; whether or not they achieved that is up for debate, but in the live environment they really deliver on their promise. The newer tracks slot in well with the old, with songs like The Ocean, Top Notch and Every Stone transferring so effectively to the live setting that they prove themselves to be show highlights. The band can slow down for a bit of a breather for staple track Colly Strings, Andy Hull’s distinctive tones reaching across the low ceiling just as every person in the room seems to know when to chime in, ‘don’t stop calling, you’re the reason I love losing sleep’. The band is personable with the crowd between songs, clearly comfortable in the close quarters.

Before heading off-stage for an encore, Manchester Orchestra close the main body of the set with an almost ethereal cover of Willie Nelson’s The Party’s Over. At one point the lights are turned out, as the song requests, and the microphone is turned to point into the crowd. It’s not necessary, really, as the fans sing loud enough to reassure the band they’ll be welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd at the ABC come October.

You Me At Six – O2 Academy, 29th March 2014 (live review)

If you live in the UK and have dabbled in live music over the past few years, it’s likely that you have already experienced a You Me At Six set. Touring relentlessly since their mid-teens, the Surrey natives have supported some of the biggest names in rock and in turn asserted themselves as one of the mainstays of the space that exists somewhere between ‘alternative’ and ‘mainstream’ in the UK – so it’s of little surprise that they’re in Glasgow to play a two-night stint at the O2 Academy in support of their latest release, Cavalier Youth.

The Kerrang! favourites emerge to little fanfare other than the eardrum-splitting screams of  eager fans. Somewhere in the midst of a frantic light show which continues throughout their set, You Me At Six launch into Too Young To Feel This Old, the title of which could serve as an accurate review of the evening in itself.  Their performance is teeming with energy and frontman Josh Franceschi conducts the crowd in a way that only someone with practice under their belt could. Recent single Fresh Start Fever sees the crowd work itself into a frenzy, with a well-timed explosion of confetti adding a fun touch – but also highlighting that with a much smaller production set-up than on previous tours, YMAS may not have songs strong enough to fall back on. As the band has matured, so too has their brand of pop-punk into anthemic pop-rock – unfortunately, this appears to have also meant settling into a comfortable formula as each track is met with the niggling feeling of ‘haven’t they already played this one?’. As a result of this, the set drags despite only lasting a short 15 songs. The quintet perform with fervour but there is a distinct sense of going through the motions – though Franceschi seems entirely genuine when thanking the crowd for their continued support and the success of Cavalier Youth, which saw the band score their first chart-topping album.

Encore track Reckless is the highlight of the set and one of the better songs the band has to offer. By the time You Me At Six close with Lived A Lie, it’s evident that the crowd is just as much to credit for the success of the band’s live show as the musicians themselves, with their enthusiasm serving to distract from the band’s shortcomings at times. Tonight may not have been their best show, but there’s no doubt that there will be plenty of opportunities for them to redeem themselves in future.