Sunday 8 April 2018

god bless the band: the courteeners at manchester arena

given that my last post was published over a month ago, staring at this blank expanse of a page prior to writing this one was just a tad intimidating thanks to my wonderfully high expectations. but after a build up of ideas frantically scribbled down in a notebook at 2am and reading this post by alice red, it felt like the right time to stop worrying about creating the Best Post Ever and just starting writing again. 

truth be told, very little has happened in my absence. just when i thought i'd secured a magazine internship - at a dog friendly (!) office - i was never invited back after my first visit, which stung a little but it wasn't exactly a particularly welcoming atmosphere. despite there being only two people in the office all day, they didn't ask any questions about my ~previous experience~ or even what i did at uni, so part of me was relieved. i'm now at the stage where i've had too much time off though, so am back to searching for any kind of work in retail for the time being. i also haven't seen as much of my best friend as i'd like due to his busy work schedule, so i've set myself the task of reading as many books from my local library as possible. 

and of course there is the music, in particular a somewhat disappointing gig i went to last month. the band in question - thirty seconds to mars - is one that i've loved since i was about fifteen, and though i saw them in 2013, i remember very little about the show. so when i saw they were touring again this year, my nostalgic senses started tingling and i booked tickets for my mother - also a Big Fan - and i, eagerly awaiting the 24th march. 

to cut a long story short, the gig did not live to up to my expectations. the guardian gave it two stars and it's not hard to see why. for a start there was no support, meaning the show felt incredibly short, and as we were in the upper tier - due to a last minute ticket booking - nobody around us stood up or even seemed to know the words, meaning i couldn't belt out the words to my favourite tracks kings and queens, city of angels and closer to the edge without feeling incredibly self conscious. jared also spent half of the show bringing people up on stage and there was the incredibly clich├ęd proposal; so predictable that when the guy asked to bring his girlfriend on stage, we all knew what was coming before he'd even got down on one knee. 

it's safe to say i left the venue disappointed and instead prayed for a more enjoyable time when we saw the courteeners last night. last time i wrote about the manchester band was back in 2016, following the release of their lacklustre album mapping the rendezvous. prior to yesterday, the last time i saw them live was in 2015 at heaton park, another underwhelming gig that made me lose faith in a band i'd loved solidly for so long, having seen them live every year from 2011 up to 2015.  

taking some time away and choosing not to attend their last live date was definitely the right decision, as i felt that familiar excitement creeping in when we arrived at the arena, though i still had my reservations. our seats this time couldn't have been better; lower tier, but in that coveted spot right near the stage, practically in line with the barrier so we had an excellent view without having to suffer the rowdy standing crowd, who seemed more animated than ever. 

the main reason i'd opted to see them this time around was because this year marks the tenth (!) anniversary of their debut album st jude., which i fell in love with sometime around 2010, maybe even earlier. knowing they were going to play it in full, it was an opportunity i didn't want to miss. another blast from the past came in the form of support act peace, who supported the band back in 2015 at heaton park. i'd always liked them back when they released their first EP in 2013 but never really kept up with them once i got out of the Pop Closet later that year. in a last ditch attempt to familiarise myself with their newer relases, i went onto spotify yesterday and discovered 2017's from under liquid glass; one of those songs that makes your heart ache but in a good way, knocking the breath out of you with each verse. 

it certainly didn't disappoint in a live setting, as i found myself holding back tears throughout, particularly at the line everybody's changing, and blooming, and moving on. reading about how the song was written in support of mental health charity MQ reassured me that i'm not the only person who struggles, and even wildly successful bands that sell out arenas can still feel alone sometimes. they also debuted new songs power and you don't walk away from love, as well as old favourites bloodshake and california daze, which still tugs at my heartstrings in a way i can't quite explain. perhaps the highlight though, was 1998 (delicious), a song from their first EP delicious. ten minutes of blistering guitar solos was all i needed to remind myself why i fell in love with ~indie~ music all those years ago, and luckily the courteeners went on to reaffirm these feelings.

taking to the stage just after nine, after playing oasis' rock 'n' roll star in its entirety - of which the crowd were word perfect - liam was taking his role as generation z's equivalent of the gallagher brothers incredibly seriously as he strode confidently to the mic wearing a mustard yellow parka. he had every reason to be though as everyone was word perfect, and in complete contrast to thirty seconds to mars, everyone was on their feet, so i felt i could fully Let Go and yell every lyric at the top of my lungs. my favourite tracks bide your time, cavorting, please don't, how come and fallowfield hillbilly sounded better than ever, and it wasn't long before my personal highlight of a courteeners show began. liam took to the stage with just his acoustic guitar and his ability to captivate an arena of thousands can't be underestimated. for some reason yesterday, today and probably tomorrow brought me to tears, even though i'm not from middleton or withington, but luckily the more upbeat smiths disco started as i blinked back my tears.

for the encore, they delved into tracks from 2013's anna and 2014's conrete love. once again that wave of nostalgia washed over me as they played summer, are you in love with a notion? and lose control. some of their newer tracks also made their way into the setlist, and though i'm still not a massive fan, no-one will ever replace us and modern love didn't sound half bad in a live setting, though the crowd were decidedly less animated during these tracks. another highlight was the 17th, perhaps the only track i really loved from mapping the rendezvous. getting to see them perform this was highly satisfying as i missed my chance at leeds festival in 2016, waking up in the early evening to hear them playing it somewhere in the distance but too exhausted to trek down the muddy hill and push my way through a sweaty crowd to get the full live experience. 

there's always one track that catches you off guard, something you weren't expecting to hear as it creeps up behind you, taking a minute for your brain to register what your ears are hearing. for me it was the opener, a devastating ode to home that i'd not heard for what felt like years, and i couldn't quite blink my tears away in time, instead letting them fall as i sang every word. 

at this point, there was only one thing left to do, and it was use my last remaining breath to belt out crowd favourite not nineteen forever. that sense of community i'd been lacking at thirty seconds to mars had never felt stronger than in that moment when the heavily inebriated crowd bounced up and down so hard i'm surprised the floor didn't crack in two like at the end of mamma mia. despite us thinking we were safe in the seated area, we still ended up showered with beer as the show came to an end. i had to refrain from singing show closer what took you so long? as my voice had disappeared completely, and as the lights dimmed all i could do was clap until my hands ached, chants of "liam" echoing all around as we left the arena. 

despite my pounding head, my heart was full of pride as we boarded the bus home; the city i was once so embarrassed to hail from had never felt more like home. the sign of a good show is when it allows you to escape life's problems for two hours, and i certainly wasn't worrying about my lack of employment and fear of failure surrounded by the courteeners' loyal fans. 

it does beg the question: what's next for the young men from middleton? though their last album wasn't my favourite, i'm hoping there's still another ten years of excellent albums left in them. the goosebumps i still feel when i press play on st. jude and the tears that prick my eyes when i hear this are the reason i've seen them live eight times over five years, and last night proved there's still life in the old dog yet. no gimmicks, no tacky costumes, tilted stages or cheesy proposals, they know we're here for the music, the thing that we love

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