Concert Review: All Time Low In Manchester, 23/3/17

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With six studio albums and a seventh on its way very soon, two live releases and tours spanning across the entire globe under their belts, now that its members are entering their 30s, one might expect that Maryland’s pop punk quartet All Time Low would be starting to wind down and take on a more mature, sedentary lifestyle.
 
To put it simply: nope!
 
March sees the return of the infamously tongue-in-cheek, loveably unpolished band to UK shores for the first time this year, reinvigorated by the recent release of their uncharacteristically sophisticated, electronics-laden single ‘Dirty Laundry’ from their highly anticipated seventh album ‘Last Young Renegade’, due out on June 2nd of this year via the band’s new label, Fueled by Ramen. But for any fans who were worried that All Time Low were losing sight of their roots as plucky, punchy pop punk underdogs, never fear- though their sound may have undergone a natural metamorphosis as the band- in theory at least- begin to mature, their live shows still bring the same passion, energy and tirade of dick jokes that they always have!
 
Ever faithful fans queued for hours in the pitiful excuse for a sunny day which Manchester struggled to provide when All Time Low, -supported by rising stars Waterparks and punk prodigies SWMRS- burst into town, bringing with them their characteristic warmth and bubbling energy which flowed through the chattering crowds, many of whom queued from the early morning just to be through the doors first to meet their idols! A rainbow of heads with hair in every imaginable colour flowed like a river around the edge of the O2 Apollo, all manner of piercings gleaming wickedly in the feeble sunlight, and almost every figure who strolled past was sporting a shirt, many homemade, with the same slogan splashed across its front or across the back of jackets- ‘Last Young Renegade’. It was clear that the band’s new image, following on from 2015’s ‘Future Hearts’, has been embraced more than amiably by the band’s legion of fans- any hint of the surprise and sadness which had been present in a minority on social media at the reveal of the band’s progression in sound for this new album had been completely overshadowed by the anticipation of the Hustlers for any new music from the mischievous four-piece! This became even more evident when the doors to the venue cranked slowly open, and a positive tidal wave of fans, many suppressing excited squeals, poured forwards, any hope that the security staff may have foolishly entertained of maintaining an orderly queue completely forgotten, as excitable fans of a surprising variety of ages spilled into the cavernous venue’s underbelly, one stream diverting up towards the seats which soared above our heads, tucked in beneath the rafters of the ceiling which was pattered with what rhythm guitarist Jack would later dub as ‘69s’ all over its arching fabric covering.
 
Before Mr Barakat’s over imaginative interpretation of the venue’s art-deco interior furnishings could commence, however, there was the small matter of the night’s two support bands to contend with. And yet it turned out to be no small matter whatsoever, as when the stage lights rose to reveal the silhouettes of this generation’s plucky pop punk protégés Waterparks, the parallels with a younger version of the night’s headliners smacked you full in the face. Frontman, vocalist and guitarist Awsten Knight carried the same swagger and devil-may-care demeanour that emanated particularly potently from a young Alex Gaskarth, and, backed by the unrelenting rhythms of drummer Otto Wood and the funky, sprightly riffs provided by Knight’s fellow guitarist Geoff Wigington, the talented trio brought an atmosphere drenched in the warmth of a Texan summer that lit up the room, helped along by the incredible light show which made full use of the venue’s expansive network of lights and lasers. Rattling through a short but sweet six-song set, the band blew away the cobwebs in the room with bouncy, politically disenfranchised opener ‘Made in America’, before letting rip on some of their big singles from their debut album released late last year, titled ‘Double Dare’. Lead single ‘Stupid for You’ screams of vitality, youth and the liberation of summertime adventures to nowhere, racing down coastal roads with hot sun blazing down on your skin, and the effervescent ‘Royal’ displays Awsten’s prowess as one of the cleverest and most ambitious young songwriters out there, spinning clever metaphors together with the tongue-in-cheek simplicity of the line ‘Work myself to death, don’t believe me, ask Geoff!’, which the established fans dotted throughout the crowd took a childlike delight in screaming as loud as they could muster! The grunting, angsty ‘Mad All the Time’ and the undulating melody and universal teenage anguish that forms the basis for the band’s breakout single ‘Crave’ showed that the trio had not forgotten their past triumphs which had brought them to this large venue, a microcosm of the expansive world stage on which Waterparks have now found themselves- a stage which, with the new cohort of fans they will have undoubtedly gained on this tour, is set to become theirs to own in years to come.

Following the melodic pop punk tones of Waterparks, the arrival of the decidedly heavier, more punk-rock inspired SWMRS hit the crowd like a kick in the teeth, as vocalist Cole Becker opened the set with an ear piercing scream. The powerful rumble of a deep, grunting bassline coupled with speaker static from bassist Seb Mueller sent vibrations through the floor and up the spines of each and every crowd member, be they clinging, some for dear life, to the barrier in front of the roaring speakers or way up in the rafters of the upper tier. The opening tracks ‘Palm Tree’ and ‘Silver Bullet’ crashed over the heads of the crowd in an eclectic cacophony of sound, underneath all of which the lyrics and melody were extremely difficult to pick out, creating the sense that what was blasting over the speakers was a passionately delivered yet disorganised muddle of sounds which the youthful crowd struggled to keep up with. The piercing riffs of Cole and fellow guitarist Max Becker seemed to be fighting against each other rather than working as one, each yelling and screaming over the other for dominance, the performance held together by the consistency and intricacy of the beats provided by drummer Joey Armstrong, descendant of punk royalty Billie Joe Armstrong, frontman of the iconic Green Day. Yet by the time the band reached the uniquely woven grunge-esque verses and untamed, punchy choruses that make up ‘Miley’, the crowd appeared to have warmed to their ethos of wild abandon, and though Cole’s attempts to open up a wall of death were met with blank looks by those in the centre of the crowd, the requests for the crowd to bounce to their heart’s content were far from ignored, and by the time the band crashed into their big, bouncy single ‘D’You Have a Car?’, many were dancing and singing along, the hard rock energy flowing freely through what was previously a much more lightweight pop punk crowd. The disparity between the secular music tastes of the majority of the crowd and the uncompromising power and passion which SWMRS refused, in true punk rock style, to dial down for even a second of their set, unfortunately worked against the young quartet on this occasion, however what was unmistakable was the desire for greatness and the passion for their craft that flowed, fiery and explosive as volcanic lava through each of their veins. With the right crowd and the right venue, this band could be exceptional, and they showed that they could, some day, be more than capable of living up to their star studded punk rock heritage.
 
At last, at long last for the many fans whose day had begun on a cold, wet pavement in the early hours of the morning, the time had come for their idols, All Time Low, to take to the stage. And when they did, ejected from the shadows by the yells of the crowd and the pulsating roar of the speakers, the atmosphere in the room shifted dramatically to a wild frenzy as the crowd compressed forwards towards the barrier as the opening chords of ‘Kicking and Screaming’ came crashing out over the crowd, the onslaught of sound amplified instantly by a chorus of a thousand adrenaline fuelled fans screaming out every word. The room shook as the floor began jumping in unison, so tightly packed together that you barely had to push off the floor to be lifted into the air with the rise and fall of the sweaty, awestruck fans who crowded in on all sides! Barely halfway through the song, and, in true All Time Low fashion, the age old tradition of bras flying onto the stage began, as Jack, grinning mischievously, grabbed the underwear and hooked them, trophy-like around his mic stand, never faltering once in grinding out his intricate riffs as he did so, every inch the unabashed rock star.
 
Glancing behind me to the upper tier as the band’s lively radio hit ‘Weightless’ burst into life, I saw that the previously static seated rows were hidden beneath a forest of bouncing, dancing feet and flailing arms, every eye trained fervently on the myriad of lights that flooded the stage as they sang and shouted along with just as much passion and vigour as those down in the midst of the floor. No matter where you were in the room, the sense of community, unity and above all, fun, was infectious and inescapable, as it was impossible not to be swept along by the youthful vibrancy of the songs and the witty, sarcastic comments that were exchanged between the band onstage and shared with the audience too, drawing showers of laughter with every innuendo and jovially lewd suggestion thrown out by Jack and Alex. ‘Weightless’ flowed effortlessly into the whimsical ‘Somewhere in Neverland’, its Peter Pan inspiration extending beyond the lyrics that dreamily paint the universal fantasy of wild teenage love taking control and shattering the borders of the hometown that it is pop punk tradition for us all to despise, and wending its way into the experimental guitars and rippling, rearing bassline tinged with the prospect of adventure that highlighted the talents of the otherwise demure- in comparison to his bandmates- Zack Merrick!
 
A wonderful juxtaposition of the old and the new, the cleverly twisting and turning of the lyrics of seasoned favourite ‘Six Feet Under the Stars’- a song which as of this year is a decade old- preceded 2015’s equally metaphorical and vivid ‘Cinderblock Garden’, a track laced with a kind of mystery and magic rarely seen nestled amongst the riot-inducing power choruses that give pop punk the latter half of its name. Despite the sarcastically pompous proclamation from Alex that ‘Canals’ was, quote, “All about me!”, for me it was the track where drummer Rian Dawson snatched my attention, his forceful, prevailing beats hailing the song’s opening and continuing to demand attention throughout! Next minute, however, with the introduction of the softer, swinging melody of ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, my attention was diverted yet again by the introduction of over twenty large beach balls into the crowd, which caused bedlam as people clambered over each other in an attempt to swat one stagewards, until somebody eventually succeeded in hitting Alex square in the midriff, who characteristically laughed it off and gave his assailant a winning smile for their trouble! All of this mayhem kept the atmosphere afloat during a track that had the potential to dial down the party vibes, so by the time the Hustler anthem that is the defiant ‘Kids in the Dark’ emerged from over the yells of the crowd, the pulsating heart of the excitable crowd hadn’t missed a beat!
 
All good things need some time to rest before rising renewed from the ashes, however, and new track ‘Dirty Laundry’ provided just such a relief for the sweat drenched band and crowd, whose voices never faltered, but whose exuberance faded to quiet contentment as they swayed in unison to the indie radio-esque, coolly flowing melody. 2011 album ‘Dirty Work’s star track ‘Guts’ revived the room from its electronica-induced stupor, its big, bold rock foundations topped off with a distinctive All Time Low flair of warmth and energy from the scuttling soprano riff that bounces its way through the undertones of the track.
 
Then the lights came down, the spotlights flickered into life, illuminating the pearly tears already brimming at the eyes of many of the crowd, as the next track now needed no introduction. Encouraging fans to get on each other’s shoulders and support each other as he did so, Alex entered the spotlight and began the night’s rendition of the heartbreakingly confessional acoustic ballad which so many fans sight as the track that made them fall head over heels for this band: ‘Therapy’. Tears spared nobody’s eyes around me, as phone lights emerged from the darkness, mirroring the rotating sphere of lights that were cast onto the ceiling over our heads. The waves of emotion continued as Alex dedicated the sparkling bubble of hope that is ‘Missing You’ to “Anyone who is struggling with an addiction. It will get better, I promise, and we’re all here for you.’ It showed a softer side to this band which often lies hidden beneath their loud, brash, adorably crude exterior- a small glimpse into the people behind the personas, the experiences behind the lyrics, the memories behind the music.
 
Never people content to wallow in their sadness for too long, however, the fire reignited in full force thanks to ‘A Love Like War’, and from then on it was a blazing rollercoaster speeding downhill towards the finale. Delightfully euphemistic and outrageously cheeky, ‘Backseat Serenade’, accompanied by Jack bounding around the stage, smirking at certain girls in the crowd and making them squeal with joy was a sight to behold, and given that it was my first time hearing my favourite All Time Low song live, I was glad that it certainly didn’t disappoint! The only track of the night taken directly from the band’s second live release ‘Straight to DVD ||: Past, Present and Future Hearts’, ‘Take Cover’ promised to be the last song of the night, as, poetically, it was the closer to the era of ‘Future Hearts’ album and the beginning of the band looking forwards to. Never ones to submit to the expectations of others, however the band returned to the stage after dragging out the crowd’s screams and pleas almost to breaking point, blasting out their penultimate track ‘Lost in Stereo’, it’s raucous guitars and movie-soundtrack worthy bassline fading seamlessly, after a round of cheers in appreciation of Jack, then Rian, then Zack and finally Alex himself, into the unmistakable cough which heralded the final song of the night, the iconic closing track which has never changed in the ten years since it was released, the slice of pure pop punk bliss that any pop punk fan worth their salt should know by heart: ‘Dear Maria, Count Me In’. As the song drew to a close, confetti in every colour rained down as Alex leapt up onto the barrier, like a king gazing out proudly over his loyal subjects, grasping hands and smiling broadly as the guitars, bass and drums all ebbed away and the lights came down once more.
 
The best way I can find to concisely comment on the sensation that is All Time Low live is simply to say that it cannot be described simply whatsoever. It was an experience akin to packing all of your closest friends into the back of a sentimentally priceless, battered up old transit van for a drive along sunlit coastal roads through a wonderfully fantastical candy-land with blink 182 cranked up on the stereo, a never-ending stream of dick jokes and laughter filling your ears and cold beers in plentiful supply: wonderfully exhilarating, completely absurd, at times unbelievable, and the whole time you couldn’t care less about anything apart from the here and now, because you’re having the time of your life!
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