Taking Back Sunday At The O2 Ritz Manchester, 15/2/17

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As ever, the dawn of another day in Manchester in mid-February brought with it a blanket of thick grey cloud, cold winds and freezing rain that came in fits and spurts when you least expected it. By all accounts, it was a miserable day to do anything, let alone queue outside on a cold, wet stretch of pavement for five hours for a gig. And yet, for some reason unbeknownst even to me, that is just what I decided to do. Although, it turned out that I wasn’t the craziest fan in that queue, as those at the front of it had reportedly been camping out since 7pm the previous evening, and had slept on the doorstep of the O2 Ritz Manchester overnight, despite the icy temperatures and freezing cold rain showers. Which artist, you may ask, warrants such dedication from their fans? Is it Rhianna? Beyoncé? A reformed One Direction? No.
 
This queue was for Taking Back Sunday, -supported by Frank Iero and the Patience and Milestones- who were currently out touring the UK and Europe in support of their seventh studio album, ‘Tidal Wave’, which was released on Hopeless Records late last year. Despite having been a band for almost twenty years, and many believing they are ‘past their prime’, Taking Back Sunday continue to have the support of a dedicated legion of fans who are willing to brave hell or high water to see their favourite band up close. And today, I was going to join them!
 
The wait outside was miserable- it was the kind of cold that seeps into your skin and refuses to budge no matter how many cups of hot chocolate you down or how many routine trips to the toilets in McDonalds you make. Not that it dampened the spirits of those waiting in line- conversations never seemed to cease as friends and strangers alike spoke openly about their love of music and the band, exchanging stories that brought on raucous gales of laughter, squeals of jealousy or sympathetic gasps and winces. The tone of every voice was one of fever pitch excitement, despite the many shivering figures wrapped in layers of black who huddled close to the venue’s walls for shelter. By the time doors rolled around, however, most people had abandoned their hoodies and slowly extracted their tickets from deep within their pockets, and the animated buzz of conversation rippled along the queue through the deep, icy blue twilight that had now fallen around us. I was now completely swept up in the infectious excitement of those around me, and couldn’t wait to get inside- not least because stepping into the warmth of the building felt like sinking into a hot bath after the bitingly cold winter winds we’d endured since lunchtime!
 
Upon entering the venue, I found the room was already filling quickly, with about eight or nine rows of fans between my friends and I and the stage. Scurrying in quickly, we found ourselves a space and began chatting eagerly as the minutes flew by and the room slowly filled with people like grains of sand falling softly through an hourglass. The stage was lit by blue lights in every hue, and wound around the mic stand was a string of white fairy-lights, glimmering in the semi-darkness. The tension and anticipation in the air was tangible, and it only grew as the time ticked closer to 7:30, when Milestones would enter the stage, and the night would properly begin.
 
And soon enough, they did, to rounds of warm applause and several scream from the girls to my left, who went into meltdown as frontman Matt Clarke gave them a winning smile as he took his place at the mic and the band crashed into their first song, the vibrations coursing through my chest, drawing my mouth into an involuntary smile as the cold inside me melted away into a warm balm. I was back at a show. I was home.
 
Milestones were not much of a surprise to me, as I’ve been listening to them for a little while thanks to a recommendation from a friend, but to my friends and most of the people around me they threw a curveball, but not for the usual reason that support acts get the crowd talking: because, in fact they were good. Really good. Their blend of fun, smooth melodies and thoughtful, intense lyrics meant that while they exuded an atmosphere of youthful vigour and unashamed excitement, they weren’t scrappy underdogs either. Their lyrics were accessible and yet carefully chosen, and their riffs unabrasive enough to serve as a slow introduction to the world of alternative music for a complete novice, yet not without their own fair share of measured power and intent. There was more maturity in their performance than I was expecting, yet it wasn’t sedate by any stretch of the imagination- a sense of refinement and passion evident in equal measure. I had high hopes for their set after listening to their debut EP ‘Equal Measures’, and they lived up to my expectations brilliantly. The large majority of the rest of the crowd seemed to agree with me, as when ‘Shot in the Dark’ began, Matt called out into the darkness ‘If you’ve got a light on you, can you hold it up for us please?’, and almost instantly, a sea of shining lights flickered into life across the room, each tiny pinprick gleaming in the darkness. For a first support band to not only have the confidence to attempt to put on a spectacle like that, but for it to actually work and look so beautiful is testament to the band’s skill and amiable character. In my view, however, at times the size of the room and demographic of the audience worked against them a little, as their sound and lyrics still have a intimacy to them that calls for a slightly smaller stage where they could be truly appreciated by the entire crowd, but the band managed to keep the focus of the crowd well, and the end of each song drew whoops and cheers from the crowd along with the applause, which seemed to fuel every member of the band, which by the end of the set had both guitarists, Andrew Procter and Eden Leviston, spinning around as they strummed out harmonious riffs, which drew laughs and cheers from the bouncing heads of the crowd. In a few EPs time, or certainly once they have released a full length record, Milestones could easily own that room, and when their set finished and they left the stage to a chorus of shouts and cheers, I was left with the feeling that it certainly wouldn’t be the last I would see of this band.
 
The in-house music then sprang back into life, and so did the chatter, the buzz of voices now weighing heavily on the warm air. Milestones had done what any good opening band should do: warmed up the atmosphere and left the crowd excited and hungry for more. The cold of the wait outside was now totally forgotten in the midst of the anticipation that now rose up from the crowd, adrenaline beginning to bubble up through everyone’s veins as the minutes slowly ebbed away. At long last, shadowy figures began to file almost invisibly onto the stage, but the crowd soon caught sight of the movement in amongst the myriad of green lights that flooded the stage, and erupted into a low rumble of cheers and squeals, every face staring eagerly, anticipating the arrival of the frontman so many had come here to see, the former guitarist of My Chemical Romance, the band who had impacted so many lives throughout their time together, and the man who individually has been an inspiration to thousands more people in the years since.
 
And then, when Frank Iero took to the stage, the atmosphere shifted, from bubbling excitement to searing, burning passion and excitement. From the first reverberating chords of the cataclysmic bombshell of an opener that is ‘World Destroyer’, the crowd surged forwards and erupted into screams of excitement, matching Frank’s intensity and screaming every word along with him. The elation and fierce, blinding happiness that emanated from the crowd of misfits and outcasts brought together by this one man and his music was tangible on the air, and ignited a fire in the pit of my stomach like nothing else ever could. A cacophony of voices rose up, shouting up at the flashing green and blue lights of the stage ‘Somebody tell me if this is really happening!’: ironic, because that is exactly how I felt! The atmosphere never dimmed for a single second: if anything, it only grew in intensity as the band moved seamlessly into the punchy, riff-laden anthem for the downtrodden and the damned that is ‘Veins! Veins!! Veins!!!’. It was the most impassioned reaction I have ever seen to a support band in my life, to the point where it almost felt like the headliner and the support should have been the other way around, for surely nothing Taking Back Sunday have in their discography could match this? There was emotion and power in equal measure, and it was a glorious catharsis to simply abandon all your inhibitions and scream the words at the top of your lungs along with a whole room full of people who you know feel the same way about life and music that you do, and that just like you, for them the two go hand in hand: life is music and music is life, and in that moment that is all that matters.
 
Without pausing for breath, the final riff of ‘Veins…’ blended effortlessly into the piercing staccato bassline that is the opening to ‘I’m a Mess’, which elicited screams of delight from across the crowded room, and caused the crowd to compress even further into a sea of heads as a circle pit opened up a few rows behind me, with people of all genders and ethnicities running, pushing and shoving each other without exception, their differences transcended by their mutual love for the music and the lyrics they were shouting along to. Frank barely seemed to notice, however- his eyes were trained on the guitar in his hands, his fringe already hanging in sweaty strands in his eyes thanks to the tightly buttoned coat he was sporting, but his famous sly grin was just visible, indicating that he had not escaped being infected with the atmosphere in the room either. As the final chorus came to a close and Frank took a half step back from the mic, the voices of the audience could be heard shouting along to every word. Flicking his hair out of his face, Frank looked up at us all, smile widening as he took in the rippling, screaming crowd in front of him. ‘Thank you!’, he said softly, unsuccessfully suppressing a disbelieving chuckle as he continued to scan the crowd, marvelling at how quickly the atmosphere had risen to a fever pitch ‘I always love playing here in Manchester!’ he laughed warmly ‘We should come play here more often really!’- a remark that was met with a torrent of screams, which made Frank chuckle even more. ‘Okay,’ He proceeded after a pause and a fond stare out at us all ‘Let’s play an old one- this song is called Joyriding!’. This time, the crowd barely had time to scream before the low, bass heavy opening chords rang out, tinged with anticipation that spilled over into hysteria as the chorus hit and not a single pair of feet were left on the ground!
 
Throughout the entirety of the band’s 30-minute set, the atmosphere in the room never dimmed once. The setlist consisted of a cool blend of songs from their 2014 album ‘Stomachaches’ (which was released under the moniker ‘frnkiero and the cellabration’) such as the angry yet lamenting ‘All I Want is Nothing’, the painfully heart-breaking ‘Stage 4 Fear of Trying’ or the clean-rock inspired ‘Weighted’, -the classic sound of which is of course given a Frank Iero-esque makeover- and some new songs from the band’s 2016 album ‘Parachutes’, which were diverse in themselves, from the hurt filled self-pity of ‘Dear Percocet, I Don’t Think We Should See Each Other Anymore’ to the  self-deprecation and sadness that pervade the lyrics of ‘I’ll Let You Down’, which almost brought me to tears.
 
But no matter whether you were a fan of the band or not, even if you didn’t know who they were, you couldn’t help but be moved by the closing song of the set, ‘Oceans’, which Frank released spontaneously as a single after the horrific bus crash the band were involved in in Sydney which almost killed Frank himself and left the rest of the band severely injured and hospitalised for several days. After a long, undulating guitar riff which slowly built in intensity, keeping every pair of eyes in the room transfixed on the stage, the unmistakable opening riff rang out to a chorus of screams, and then, in unison, every member of the crowd around me burst into song, so loudly I could barely hear Frank over the cacophony! I joined in without hesitation, screaming out every word in time with everyone else, filled with a sense of elation and freedom that you only ever experience when you’re screaming along with other members of your musical family at a gig! I tried to keep my eyes trained on Frank, wanting to drink in every possible second of him that I could, but my eyes were soon clouded by tears as the emotions of the song hit me in waves and my façade cracked, along with my voice! By the time the song ended, and the final ‘I’ve never been good enough for your love’ faded away, the lights faded to black and Frank turned away from the crowd, raising a hand in farewell, silhouetted for just a second against the spotlight he was born to stand in, and I began to sob in earnest, a cocktail of emotions coursing through my veins, my heart beating like a galloping horse and my whole body shaking. My friend said nothing, just hugged me tightly as I continued to sob for the next ten minutes, unable to comprehend the fact that I’d just seen one of my favourite artists of all time and one of my biggest inspirations, both musically and personally, perform live less than two metres away from my eyes. It was the best kind of overwhelming, and a feeling I’ll never forget.
 
By the time I had managed to calm down, there was barely ten minutes to go before Taking Back Sunday were due to take to the stage, and the dreary weather outside was a distant memory, as the whole room seemed to hum with electricity and excitement, fierce and white hot. And when the band entered the stage, a raucous applause broke out, punctuated by several low pitched cheers and woops from the group of guys who were clustered in the centre about halfway back from the stage (a sound which would become a regular occurrence throughout the course of the next ninety minutes!).
 
Emo band they may be, but their music, personalities and the atmosphere in the room was about as far from melancholy as you could imagine! With violent mosh pits that could raise the dead, their wild antics set to a never ceasing soundtrack of pounding guitars, grunting basslines and powerful vocals that were almost a match for the ferocity and volume of the crowd, Taking Back Sunday proved that age really is just a number, if the music and the words can still resonate to huge a huge extent with experience gig-goers in their early 30s and young kids just getting into the scene alike! The range of ages in the crowd was reflected by the band’s diverse setlist, which included classics from their 2006 breakthrough album ‘Louder Now’ as well as a large sampling of their latest 2016 release, ‘Tidal Wave’, and a whole host of songs from in between. Theirs was a set strung together not by continuity, but by sheer power, as song after song came crashing down in relentless waves upon the crowd. From the very beginning- opener ‘Death Wolf’ from new album ‘Tidal Wave’- the moshers were out in force, and the rest of the crowd was packed tightly against the barrier, arms outstretched and feet barely able to touch solid ground in amongst the forest of boots and scuffed up black trainers that lay like a carpet on the worn floorboards. Whether it was the angsty teenage anthem of ‘Liar (Takes One to Know One)’, or the upbeat, sun-drenched melody of ‘A Decade Under the Influence’; the melodic powerhouse that is ‘Flicker, Fade’ or the fierce hatred that fuels the lyrics of ‘Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team)’; the movie-opening worthy ‘Tidal Wave’ or the never-failing anthem that was the soundtrack to a thousand teenage heartbreaks in the mid-2000s that is ‘MakeDamnSure’: every song was an event in itself, sung almost effortlessly but by no means carelessly by frontman Adam Lazzara, and played with passion and control in equal measure by John (Nolan- guitar, vocals), Eddie (Reyes-guitar), Shaun (Cooper -bass guitar) and Mark (O'Connell -drums). For all the energy and tongue-in-cheek attitude the band gave off them in an almost effervescent fashion, they could have been a group of kids buoyed up by the excitement of embarking upon their first ever tour- there was no trace of the laboured attitude and world-weariness that you get from some other bands who have been playing and touring together for almost twenty years. It was light-hearted, carefree, passionate and, above all else, it was plain and simple fun, raw and unashamed, and it was so refreshing to witness and be a part of. Adam himself summed it up perfectly when he paused about halfway through the set to catch his breath, sweaty and beaming, and he said ‘Do you know what, Manchester? This is the first time since we’ve been in England where I’ve not been cold! So thank you so so much for making me feel warm again! Because let me tell you, if you’re having half as much fun as I’m having right now, then we’re doing pretty good, right?’
 
There were moments of poignancy too, however. Adam prefaced the opening of ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ by saying ‘This is a song that got me through a really hard time, and I hope it means something to you too’. And just for a little while, the mosh stopped, as everyone simply stood and watched, swaying slightly on the spot and singing along softly, raising their voices during the bridge as the guitars faded away, carrying Adam through the silence of the instruments and drawing a comforted grin from his lips as he looked out and saw hands raised in his direction and lips moving in time with his own. It was a beautiful moment of solidarity in music, of people finding a connection with those around them through the words and the melody and, for once, not pushing, not shoving, not fighting with each other, but instead building each other up, carrying each other emotionally and standing by one another, both physically and metaphorically. And there were other moments of indelicate beauty too, in amongst all the high octane jumping, dancing and singing: when after a couple of songs, Adam turned to the crowd and said apologetically ‘We’re having awful technical issues guys, I’m sorry!’ and the crowd roared in unison, nonverbally telling him that they didn’t care in the slightest, which brought a beaming smile to all of the band’s faces; when Adam and John had a mini argument onstage about Adam’s awful puns; when one of the guys saw a woman who was older than the rest of the crowd in the pit by a considerable amount, and yet she was still singing and jumping around with all the kids, having the time of her life and not caring what anyone thought of her, and he went up to her and high-fived her, shouting over the bedlam ‘You’re a legend!’; when Adam was telling the story of how they got Frank to tour with them, and one of the guys shouted ‘Play a song!’, and instead of getting annoyed, Adam got the whole room and the balcony to give the guy a round of applause, saying ‘You’re right, I should just shut the f*ck up and play a song!’. Underneath all the pretend aggression and fighting, there was an atmosphere of warmth and companionship that you don’t feel unless you’re right there in the thick of it all: the knowledge that these are people who understand you better than most people you know from elsewhere ever will, and that the music gives you a connection with these people that is subtler and yet stronger than anything else could be.
 
Because at the end of the day, that’s what music does, or at least what it should do. It brings people together in inexplicable ways, creates a collective consciousness between a group of people which not only lasts for the time you’re crowded into that hot, sweaty room, but that remains after you leave it. Every gig you attend, every album you listen to or band you fall in love with changes you in some small way or another. It gives you a little piece of happiness that you can take away with you, keep stored in the back of your mind, just as everyone else in that room is able to do, and that small memory connects you to those people forever. So despite the cold and the rain still swooping down on us as we left the venue at the end of the gig, it didn’t seem as bad as before, because a small part of the warmth, that fire that we had felt while jumping around in that crowd, remained with us all, and now it always will.

​-Review by Charlotte Hardman
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