The Apollo is arguably the last rung on the Manchester venue ladder before hitting the dizzy heights of the Manchester Arena, so a strong fan following is always present, and expectations always high. However in my experience, it can bring with it a few problems for the discerning music fan and regular gig goer.
Whilst being a superb venue with exceptional sound and grandeur, it can also attract a somewhat ignorant, un-forgiving crowd who are seemingly attending their annual gig. Whilst we all attend gigs primarily to see the headliner, that doesn’t warrant us to jabber through the support act’s set, creating a somewhat hostile reception.
Granted, Blood Red Shoes were an abstruse choice of support act for The Gaslight Anthem, being polar opposite in both style and sound. Nonetheless, they deserved a far better response than they got - not only because it’s polite, but more importantly because they’re a bloody great live band. Thankfully Laura-Mary Carter and Steve Ansell didn’t let it faze them; delivering a snappy, dynamic and driven half hour set. As usual they turned up the levels of sonic boom and rattled the Apollo’s very foundations. Cutting a fine sight on the big stage, despite the feeble crowd, they burst their way through the likes of staples ‘Say Something, Say Anything’, ‘It Is Happening Again’ and newer offerings ‘Lost Kids’ and ‘Cold’ before ending on the electrifyingly acute ‘I Wish I Was Someone Better’. Truth be told, despite the lack of cohort, they showed far more zeal and gumption than the headliners.
So, The Gaslight Anthem - purveyors of that ‘Great American Sound’ - were tonight’s main event, and I was expecting a spectacle; raw, robust rock ‘n’ roll. Sadly what I got was a considerably distracted and tired looking band that failed to truly hit the spot, despite playing a mammoth 22 track set. There were smatterings of dynamism, but all in all it was fairly unremarkable and frustratingly lack lustre. A real shame, as on record they’re full-bodied and full of energy, and I had expected this notion only to be amplified live.
With a slightly meagre stage set up of minimal lights and bawdy canvas backdrop, the New Jersey four-piece commenced with new album track ‘Mae’. Laced with their signature sound of glowing six-string adornment and introspective lyrics they sounded agreeable; Fallon’s voice able-bodied and rasping with canorous and anthemic guitars.
My issue wasn’t with how they sounded - and neither was it with the instrumentation. It was with how they presented it. The thrill of seeing a band live is in the passion, the emotion and the fervour they exude; that which can’t be conveyed on a record. The Gaslight Anthem lacked any real connection with the crowd and little spirit, leaving me thinking I’d have been better off sat at home listening to their albums. Despite the crowd visibly immersing themselves and chanting the lyrics back at them, there was a distinct sense that it was very much a them and us affair, with little integration. Four robots up on stage, programmed to play the songs and go through the motions.
“Sha-la-la’s” and “woah-woah-woah’s” filled the air, as did references to heartbreak, radios and rain. ‘The ‘59 Sound‘, ‘Here Comes My Man’ and ‘45’ proved the most popular with the crowd.
But it wasn’t until the very end of the set that Fallon and co. really stepped it up a gear, added some oomph and looked a little interested - ‘Great Expectations’ giving a little hint of what they could do if they just added a bit of pageantry and flare to proceedings.
The Gaslight Anthem cite Bruce Springsteen as an inspiration, and he’s quite obviously played a role in shaping their sound. But one thing they clearly haven’t learnt from The Boss is how to put on a show.
Credit to the band for managing to sell out a venue like the Apollo - they’ve clearly honed a winning formula with their highly referential, catchy, chest swelling anthems. And by the looks of the room, everyone was having fun and enjoying themselves. But for me it wasn’t enough, especially when you compare it with, for example, the similar sounding We Are Augustines who literally ooze passion, light up the stage and engage with each and every person in the room.
It’s that which makes a gig, not a carbon copy of what you can listen to at home.
Words: Michelle Lloyd
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