Well, it was my birthday yesterday. I didn’t really expect to do anything special. It was mid-week, not a significant birthday. Well, turning 37(!) now does feel significant because I am no longer in the mid-30s zone. I am distinctly in the approaching-40 zone. Bleaugh. But then…those buggers We Are Scientists announced they were playing in Manchester that day. Given that I wasn’t sure at that point how much of a proper gig the Glasgow Stag and Dagger thing would be, and there were no other dates nearby, I decided to go for it. I couldn’t let them play somewhere on my birthday and NOT be there. Luckily, I was able to get a day and a half off work, found a cheap train and Premier Inn room so it was on. Also, shout out to my lovely dad who came down to mind the girls and let me away.
The train ride was entertaining in itself. I busied myself writing up Sunday’s events, but shortly after we left Glasgow, an announcement came over the tannoy explaining there would be no trolley service due to the trolley attendant suffering a “mishap”. This lead the lady opposite me and I bursting out into inappropriate giggles. They later found a replacement trolley attendant and my fellow passenger asked what happened. “He poured hot water on his hand. He’d only served 1 cup of coffee! Had to leave the train! It’s not like he was having a baby!” Cue more laughter. About halfway through our journey, a couple got on and the bloke had one of those adult colouring books. His was a Bill Murray one which he kept telling us was a gift. The lady opposite me was fascinated and kept asking questions about it. It was nice to have a bit of chat to pass the time, the bloke was funny and the woman hilarious in that northern (English) way. “Eh up, ‘e’s doing shading now!”
Arrived in Manchester which was lovely and sunny, checked in to the hotel, finished off the Stag and Dagger blog piece with photos etc and then took a walk round Manchester. I wanted to find the venue so went there first, then took a walk around town. I thought about going into a museum or something but was feeling too energised after sitting still for 3 and a half hours on the train and in anticipation of the gig. I was too restless to meander slowly and focus. Unfortunately, Manchester is still 30% building site and 40% roadworks so it wasn’t the most pleasant walk. I grabbed some food and went back to the hotel to shower and change before the gig.
I had opted for the VIP package because y’know, birthday treat and all, and because the similar event in Glasgow a couple of years ago was definitely worth it (read all about that here). I arrived outside. A few people began to gather. A security guard came out and asked if we were there for the event. She told us they were running a little late, we should wait about 15 minutes or so. We waited. She came back, let us in. Looked at my ticket and pass and told me I was in the wrong place! I was now 15 minutes late and in the wrong building. Legged it next door, another security guard took my pass, gave me a wristband and said they were upstairs.
Then I spotted Chris speaking with a group of people just by a staircase. I still have no idea if there was a soundcheck this time, I asked one of the group but he seemed to say he had just stumbled on them and joined in.So much for VIP. Didn’t really get to chat to either of them (Other Keith wasn’t there) but then someone from their team offered to take photos. We took a group shot, then had individual pictures.
I took the chance, figuring everyone else has had their shot and spoke to both Keith and Chris while we did the photos.
I gave Keith a present, a reference to a conversation we had last time in Glasgow. It’s a sombrero juicer. He was well impressed that it would juice straight into a cup.
No idea what he’s doing here but he is wearing it proudly.
I chatted to Chris a little about the gig on Sunday and they both signed my ticket.
I asked Original Keith if Other Keith would be down because I had something for him too. He said he wouldn’t be at the meet and greet but he would ask him to come to the merch stall after the gig. One of the girls had a green I Are Scientists t-shirt on, Keith asked how old it was, reckoning it was a vintage. She explained she got it on the TV en Francais tour. I said I had one of those shirts from the first time I saw them in 2008. I’m not sure if they were impressed or appalled that I had been following them all these years. As part of the VIP package, we were able to pick a t-shirt or hoodie from the merch stall. I was really tempted by the smoking cat shirt, but opted for a hoodie for a change.
We said goodbye and after a while we were allowed into the venue. I got a spot on the barrier pretty much dead centre. There were 2 support acts. The first was The Alibi. From the outset they were egging the audience on in quite an aggressive way, demanding we clap along and join in. On the first song and we had no idea who they were. They were good enough, but I think a first support act should kinda have to work to win over the crowd and participation is better if spontaneous. Or at least later into the set once we’ve got a feel for them. Then the lead singer made some comments about joining him backstage which were just creepy so I was even less impressed.
Fortunately, the second support were much better. I thought maybe I recognised them, but wasn’t sure where from. They were a 3-piece called Flowers, fronted by a female singer/bassist. It was the kind of music that gets called “ethereal”, “dreamy” and “expansive” and because I’m writing this on a train after about 4 hours sleep that’s what I’ll call it too. Vaguely reminded me of Pixies. I really liked them and will be following them and hopefully seeing them again soon.
Then WAS. I don’t even know what to say. I’ve written about them so often I’m in danger of repeating myself. The girl next to me was seeing them for the first time and asked if I’d seen them before. “Yeah, a few times…” Like, about 10? Maybe this was the 10th time? I need to think back over those 8 years and try to remember… One thing I have said before that bears repeating is that you are guaranteed a good show if Keith is in good form, and you know he is in good form when he is so busy jumping, dancing and shredding his guitar that he has to rush back to his mic to sing the next line. That happened a lot, ergo it was a good show.
Old favourites were refreshed with a heavier, bassier, stompier sound. The Scene is Dead and Impatience sounded great again. We got Cash Cow this time too. Sprinkles is one of my favourites from TVeF so I was delighted to hear it. Once again the new songs just come alive on the stage. We got the same 3 as on Sunday – Buckle, In My Head and Classic Love. Listening to the record the vocals are sometimes a bit sparse. When I first listened, I got the impression of Keith sitting on a stool, occasionally leaning into a mic to record a line. In reality, when performing live, he is singing as well as providing lead and rhythm guitar, as well as leaping around and going crazy on stage. When it all comes together like that, along with the heavier bass and drums, the new songs feel completely and utterly different from the way I interpreted them on record. Now that I have those images in my head, I’m listening to Helter Seltzer in a new way and hearing new aspects of it. Images like this:
(I don’t normally take so many photos but I have a new phone and the camera is a million times better than my old one. At least being barrier I didn’t have to hold it up and obstruct anyone’s view. But they are only phone photos, I’m not a pro.)
I’m almost at the point now where I could do without hearing the likes of It’s A Hit, Great Escape and After Hours because I’ve heard them so often, all I really want to hear is the newer songs. I was having that kind of thought during Nobody Move last night when Other Keith mouthed “Happy Birthday!” to me. (We had chatted about this on Sunday, it was his birthday the day before) I kicked myself and realised that those songs are still awesome, they get the crowd going and I should be revelling in every moment of my birthday treat gig. Getting a “Happy Birthday” and a big grin from one of the band during their biggest song is pretty amazing.
Other Keith is brilliant. I love his drumming style and the sound he brings to the band on the old songs as well as the new. He looks like he’s having the best time and who could blame him?
There were the typical WAS between-songs discussions, last night’s mainly involved Chris trying to convince us he could make an engine revving sound with his bass. Repeatedly.
We got Textbook! I suppose it’s not a surprise that we are hearing a lot of songs from With Love And Squalor as they gear up for the album gigs later this year, but it’s always nice to hear Textbook. This was the song that made me fall in love with WAS. Whilst I am a huge fan of the rockier songs, my very first listen of WLAS had me hooked, but Textbook showed me they had more depth. And those drums! I fell in love with the changing rhythms on Textbook. And Keith’s use of language on “makes me wish I were dead”. So even if I don’t get to the album show we heard a good chunk of WLAS last night. Actually scrap that, I would kill to hear Inaction, Can’t Lose (I love Can’t Lose, that and Scene are my favourites on the album I think), Lousy Reputation, jeez they are all so good I really want to go to a WLAS album show! Either record it or do it in the UK please guys?
Towards the end there was some problem with Chris’ bass, engine noise or not, that reverberated weirdly and extrmemely loudly, meaning all of us in the front felt like an earthquake was going through us. Keith described it as demonic and they debated whether to go ahead with the last song. They did, we all felt like our guts were being ripped out but it was worth it,
As they headed off stage, Other Keith gathered up his stuff, then came down to the front and handed me a drum stick, saying “Happy Birthday” again, then telling everyone else who was clamouring for things “It’s her birthday!!”
Afterwards I headed towards the merch stand thinking I might get a smoking cat t-shirt anyway, but there was a huge queue. I wondered what the chances were of a) Original Keith remembering to tell Other Keith, and b) Other Keith making it down, given that he’d just done the thing with the drumstick. I waited in the merch queue anyway, until the girl in front of me got the last cat tshirt. Then I turned round and Other Keith was there! I hugged him and thanked him for the drumstick and gave him the present I had brought for him – a book with a collection of modern facts and info about Scotland. This was part birthday present and partly because I have given Chris and Keith books on previous occasions. We chatted about what we had done since Sunday, his involvement with the band, the sound of the new record and his contribution to it and future UK tours. Seriously guys, keep him, he fits right in and is just awesome. He remembered that I used to play drums, so I promised that when I make it to New York I’ll bring the stick and he can give me a drum lesson.
He left to join the others, who had come down to the lobby, but there was quite a gaggle vying for their attention so I left, pleased that my evening had ended better than it began. Went back to hotel, couldn’t sleep, eventually did fall asleep then woke up at 5am re-living the gig and remembering how great it was and reflecting on what a good decision it had been to make the trip.
Writing this on the train now heading back to work and the real world. I’m listening to the album with fresh ears. I realised that it has all the elements that I love about WAS. Beautiful harmonies, complex and varying rhythms, head-banging rock parts mixed with delicate fragile sections. Whilst the live performance didn’t create a eureka moment for me, like with TVeF, Helter Seltzer has been a grower, and the live experience only enhanced my understanding of an album that is more complex than first appears. Roll on October and let’s get some dates confirmed fellas!