Saturday 13 July 2019

i need a little church: aly & aj at manchester academy

after what feels like an eternity, this week aly & aj finally made the trip across the pond to play five european shows in support of their latest sanctuary EP, and their show at manchester academy last night was an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.

from the moment the opening synths of church echoed around the room i felt shivers up and down my spine. naturally this led to full blown tears by the time they took to the stage and started singing the song, which has always hit a little too close to home with its lyrics about redemption and coming to terms with one's bad decisions. 

then just as i'd wiped the tears from my eyes, they launched into i know, one of my most played tracks when it came out in 2017 (!!) which reminds me of a particularly challenging time in my life. 

next came closure, an older song i'd never heard before but soon found myself singing along to, before they were back in familiar territory for with you, its fabulously dramatic chorus sounding even better live. 

in fact, i spent most of the night being blown away by aj's vocals; i can confirm that she has the range. when the duo first emerged i always felt like she faded into the background slightly, but this was no longer the case as she took the lead on most of their new material and swapped effortlessly between an acoustic and electric guitar throughout the show. aly felt most at ease talking to the crowd, providing background on tracks old and new and telling us how grateful they were to see so many people supporting their music after such a long time away from the spotlight. 

one of my highlights was star maps, written in the aftermath of the harvey weinstein scandal. i was amazed to hear the sisters say that they weren't originally going to include it on the EP, but they definitely made the right decision adding it to the track list as it was a fan favourite (in true manchester fashion, the crowd were so loud i'm surprised my eardrums are still intact). 

i used up all the air in my lungs for the distance but just about had enough voice left to get through don't go changing, the second single from sanctuary. luckily i used the next track promises to get my breath back; though it's a slightly more subdued affair, it's still one of my favourites from their ten years EP. 

they dedicated their next track, good loveto the LGBTQ community, and aly affixed a pride flag from the crowd to her mic stand. this is another track which sounded way better in a live setting, and i'll definitely be playing it on repeat in the coming days. 

then came my favourite song from sanctuary, not ready to wake up, swiftly followed by like whoa, another old song that sent the crowd wild, particularly the two horrendously drunk girls next to me (i always seem to have the worst gig neighbours). 

up next was take me, the first single they released upon returning to music in 2017 and it sounded better than ever. seemingly without even drawing breath, they followed it up with rush, an Absolute Banger that has been adopted by the LGBTQ community as an anthem of acceptance. 

it was at this point they took a well deserved break, returning to the stage with an acoustic guitar in hand for slow burn, their take on a kacey musgraves song. though i didn't know the track, it gave me a chance to rest my vocal chords before sanctuary - an touching ode to their fanbase - and finally their big finish, which is of course potential break up song 

to say it was one of the greatest moments of my life would be no exaggeration, as it hit me that i'd waited more than ten years (!) to hear it and clearly i wasn't the only one as the crowd were louder than ever and completely word perfect. 

i'll spare you all the metaphors about pop music being akin to a Religious Experience, but it truly felt like a holy place filled with synth pads and snare drums as opposed to organs and hymn sheets. 

the duo were clearly overwhelmed by the support, vowing to return to manchester in the future, and when they do i'll be ready to do it all over again. 

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