It’s always incredibly exciting getting to see a band who are on the cusp of stardom. They’ve already reached greatness, and it’s plainly obvious that they’re bound for bigger stages, playing to bigger audiences.
Take one rainy Saturday night at Manchester’s Academy 2 as an example. Alt-rock champions Manchester Orchestra are enjoying a winning streak at the moment, cited as an influence by future stars such as Julien Baker and Sorority Noise, while celebrating the acclaim garnered by recent album ‘A Black Mile to The Surface’. Their extended headlining set is a triumph, bookended by the opening and closing tracks from that album, The Maze and The Silence respectively. The more atmospheric new songs such as blistering The Moth, or gorgeous The Sunshine prove an interesting counterpoint to their earlier works, such as 2011’s ‘Simple Math,’ the title track of which is an undeniable highlight of the set, all pulverising yet intricate arrangements and passionate vocals from frontman Andy Hull. The set leans heavily on earlier material but never neglects the new. Paying tribute to classics such as Colly Strings and my personal favourite 100 Dollars, these prove special treats to the sold-out crowd of die-hard fans, solidifying Manchester Orchestra’s reputation as one of the best live bands around today.
However the real treasure of the night was opening act, Boston trio Slothrust. Already three albums deep and a new EP on the way, it’s hard to believe that this tour marks the band’s first batch of European shows. As they take the stage and open with Surf Goth from last year’s ‘Everyone Else,’ they exude a quiet confidence. They blitz through the instrumental track navigating razor-sharp guitar riffs and time signature changes, stunning the densely packed crowd into awe. If they’re nervous, they don’t show it – lead singer and guitarist Leah Wellbaum gently flicks her hair in time with the music, not skipping a beat. They’re completely in their element.
It’s immediately followed by early single 7:30 AM, a fan favourite for reasons that become obvious as soon as they kick into the driving rockabilly-esque riff. This is a band that’s unafraid to stretch rock in all the directions, raising the roof and stunning the audience. “I’m gonna watch you walk away,” Leah deadpans, before dancing around the stage in time to the guitar melody. The band’s rhythm section never lets up – Kyle Bann’s anxious basslines restlessly bounce around, while Will Gorin’s drums get the crowd bouncing early on.
The set is heavily weighted towards last year’s excellent ‘Everyone Else,’ with the aforementioned Surf Goth kickstarting proceedings. Tracks like album centrepiece Pseudo Culture shift shape with the band, riding Nirvana-esque riffs juxtaposed with sickly sweet harmonies. Other tracks like single Like A Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone takes the quiet verse/loud chorus structure to its logical extreme, as gentle chords and clean funky riffs mix with four-on-the-floor beats and walls of feedback. The lyrics sing of self-loathing and anxiety, and it is at once incredibly intense and infectiously catchy. They often end their songs with alternating guitar, bass and drum solos, giving each member a moment in the spotlight to show off their impressive musicianship.
The highlights of the night arrive nearing the end of Slothrust’s set, with penultimate song Horseshoe Crab. A slow burning masterpiece that signals the increasing intensity of their finale. It starts off delicate and fragile, with confessional lyrics and some of Leah’s most brilliant vocal performances of the night, gradually shifting into a darker heavier piece. They finish their half-hour set on early single Crockpot, one of their most brutally dark compositions. The band finally let their hair down and spend the extended coda jumping and headbanging across the stage, visible smiles on their faces. The crowd let loose with them, and it’s an incredible moment to see. When they finally leave the stage to rapturous applause, I’m left hungry for more. It’s a set that’s short but oh so sweet.
Overall, this was one of the best gigs I’d been to in recent months. While Manchester Orchestra were as brilliant as I expected, Slothrust were the real treasures of the night, and I’m ecstatic for them to return. If the strength of singles such as 7:30 AM and Horseshoe Crab are anything to go by, any future releases are going to be something special indeed. With a covers EP on the way, hopefully they’ll be back soon, ideally headlining next time.
Slothrust’s covers EP ‘Show Me How You Want It to Be’ is released on 10th November 2017 via Dangerbird Records – and is available to Pre-Order here.