Among the usual slew of brilliantly billed tours in the run up to Slam Dunk As It Is took the chance to embark on by far their biggest headline tour to date, and AH notched our levels of pre festival excitement up a little higher and caught their stop at Manchester’s Sound Control to see if Patty Walters and his band could match both the hype and their high standards on record.
Given said levels of pre-show hype and excitement throbbing in the air, along with an uncomfortable amount of early teen pheromones being blasted out by the various clutches of Walters fan girls, openers bruising Blackpool pop-punks Boston Manor should really have stoked the first sparks to make the night explode into chaos. Particularly as AH had witnessed the band tear the exact same stage a new one, causing mayhem in a stand out performance at Pinky Swear Festival mere weeks before.
Sadly proceedings never really kicked off in anything like the same way here. Possibly due to this and the aforementioned set being just two of six performances in only two months by the band at the same venue. There was a definite feeling that Boston Manor may have overexposed themselves in this particular market, made painfully clear by them reminding the crowd of how many times they had played the room, and announcing that the PS fest set had been their best ever show as a band before they had even played a song. From that point on the band seemed to be focused on recapturing the magic of their last visit, but the crowd simply didn’t become invested or connected enough to come close.
The Blackpool lads gave the set their customary gusto filled attack, but between some fairly iffy sound, the early start time and a predominantly young not gig hardened crowd things never kicked off in the way they were clearly expecting. Nevertheless the band kept plugging away managing to give a fair but not overwhelming account of themselves culminating in a strong airing of ‘Peach State’. With their raucous, ballsy brand of pop-punk that’s bigger on abrasiveness then melody this simply wasn’t quite their audience or their night, and not a patch on the heroics we witnessed at Pinky Swear. (3/5)
Striking a stronger balance between melody and unrestrained pop-punk boisterousness, Canadian’s Seaway were clearly stoked to be making a second trip around UK after winning plenty of friends on their first visit supporting Neck Deep. Frontman Ryan Locke gave a rapid fire introduction to his band before tearing into an attention grabbing performance of ‘Your Best Friend’ from 2014’s excellent ‘All In Your Head’ EP. The Toronto outfit quickly followed that up with ‘Slowing Down’ and ‘The Letdown’, apparently intent on fitting in as many songs and winning as many new fans as they could in the limited time.
Although the fan girls crowding the stage in preparation for the headliners didn’t leave much in the way of room to get rowdy, the spiky bounce of the latter track finally gets some heads bobbing enthusiastically as at least the front third of the room mercifully starts to show some life. There’s something about Seaway’s music, in particular their strong use of slightly slower bridges into storming chorus reprises, that really hits the spot. When Locke tells the crowd “We appreciate you watching us, it’s nice to be appreciated isn’t it”, the feeling is more than mutual and Sound Control shows its appreciation with a concerted sing along to set closer ’Alberta’. It’s been a while since Canada has made a pop-punk band that’s has made much in the way of waves in the international pop-punk scene, but based on this set Seaway are worthy candidates to change that. (3.5/5)
Another band making a much anticipated second visit to our shores are This Wild Life, and considering we featured the acoustic folk punk duo in both our Slam Dunk must see bands and playlist, it’s fair to say Already Heard were pretty pleased to see them.
The total change of pace from the first two acts took some present a little while to adjust to, but Jordan and Del Grosso are used to winning over crowds in attendance to watch nosier, more energetic bills. It was business as usual as the pair hit the ground running, opener ‘History’ giving them a warm reception from the off. There’s a mesmerising quality to watching This Wild Life perform, ‘Over It’ and ‘Roots and Branches’ providing such instantly relatable and gorgeously-phrased lyrics, coupled with exquisite vocal and guitar harmonies and melodies that the effect is even further intensified. Jordan strengthens his connection with his audience giving a sincere and moving explanation of his heart-rending tribute to his mother’s battle with cancer, ‘No More Bad Days’ earning him a round of applause followed by a respectful hush thought the song.
A performance of older song ‘Take It Back’ transitions unexpectedly into a unique cover of Blink-182 hit ‘First Date’ in a set highlight before the tongue in cheek saccharine soppiness of ‘Puppy Love’ shows TWL can bring catchy choruses as well as “feels”.
The loudest roar of approval of the evening so far greats the pair breaking out the track that launched them to prominence, a superbly reworked cover of Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Sleepwalking’. As well as showcasing how well TWL pull off big emotive flag waving numbers with just a pair of acoustic guitars, last track ‘Concrete’ also sees Mr Del Grasso dive behind the drums still on the stage showing some surprising yet mighty tidy skills behind the kit.
It’s difficult to properly describe the experience of a TWL set, but at heart it’s a case of leaving pretension and scene posturing at the door, and letting yourself get swept along in simple yet staggeringly wonderful melodies. Something which is as refreshing as it is captivating. Most writers have bands they won’t stop praising, recommending to friends and endlessly banging on about to anyone who will listen. Well kids here’s me giving you a strong nudge in the direction of TWL. You can thank me later. Ok this wasn’t their best set ever, but that’s as much down to a young and frankly rather disrespectful crowd who can’t suss out when to shut the hell up and listen. (4/5)
At last it was time for the assembled fan girls to properly lose their shit, or whatever it is that young ladies in their mid-teens do when they’re nauseatingly over excited nowadays. Either way the screams and squeals that resulted from a certain Mr P Walters Esq. showing his face on the stage will have had dogs throughout the greater Manchester area feeling somewhat hacked off at having their furry lugs tortured. Indeed the volume would have been respectable in the big academy room down the road, never mind a few hundred kids in a grungy basement. And a curious intro theme of a slice of classical Mozart transitioning into PJ and Duncan’s ‘Lets Get Ready To Rumble’ via Bruce Buffer serves only to ramp the atmosphere to fever pitch, as Walters bounds into view like an excited puppy, bouncing all over the shot.
Finally the room as a whole has some serious energy, even the older, saggier members of the crowd who presumably, actually make that hopefully, were there to escort their offspring rather than to gaze adoringly at Walters. The front third of the crowd immediately starts pogoing like the floor has been electrified, while the McBusted real pop-punk gig newbies set squeal and commence a weird bop that’s frenzied, ungainly and awkward in equal measure.
Without even a millisecond to compose themselves, ‘Speak Soft’ has ripped into life and As It Is take a swing and squarely smash any notion that they are merely a hyped up poster boy sensation and his backing band faking their way through the pop-punk motions squarely out of the park. ‘Cheap Shots and Setbacks’ keeps things irresistibly rolling, Walters in unbreakable control of his audience and the rest of his band showing they have the musical chops to more than keep up with his vocal prowess. Which, given how great it sounds on record, could easily have disappointed live. However energetic his on stage antics got, not once did Walters run out of steam vocally or hit noticeably flat or off key notes.
‘Turn Back To Me’ and ‘Bitter Broken You’ both prove that As It Is’ writing works very well live, peaking and troughing energy levels throughout the tracks, with the latter seeing a pit break out of nowhere. The fraught angst and thrashed powerchords of ‘Horoscopes’ then goes even further to showing that the band aren’t plastic pop-punks by any stretch of the imagination.
For a band who haven’t exactly been around forever it’s striking just how fluid and honed a live act As It Is are. In particular the super tight rhythm section keeps the set rumbling slickly along. ‘Can’t Save Myself’ see’s the band briefly slow things down meaningfully, the halftime style final bridge and chorus letting breath be caught and every voice in the room rises to belt the lyrics back at the stage. The slowed down pace continued with an acoustic interlude performed solo by Walters, on ‘My Oceans Are Lakes’ he easily holds his own, keeping all eyes locked on him, and leads into a glorious swell as the rest of the band ease back in for the final chorus.
Sound Control gets the chance to see that As It Is are more than a one star show, with both guitarists chipping in with playful quips to the crowd. “Our Lyrics are pretty fucking miserable, but at least you can jump to the misery” observes the more painfully well-spoken of the two.
‘Sorry’ whips the energy levels back up, and serves as a great lead in to the band’s biggest hit to date ‘Dial Tones’, which gets the room heaving and leaves Walters looking visibly ecstatic. Its fists waving triumphantly in the air stuff, and closing rephrain “Forget me like I know you want to” rings loud and clear around Sound Control to bring the show to bring the show to a suitably all-encompassing end. (4/5)
As both recording artists and live performers As It Is are already far far better than they have any logical right to be, and that in a commercial and popularity sense, it’s tangibly clear that this is a band poised and ready to explode into being as famous as they ever dreamed off. Whether this sees As It Is tread the All Time Low road to international success while maintaining reasonable levels of credibility, or rocket to 5 Seconds Of Summer type global superstar designed purely to shift units and sell merch, will need careful management and decision making on the part of all involved. For now at least we can all just enjoy the burgeoning break out of an excellent young (mostly) British pop-punk talent.
Words by Dane Wright (@MrDane Wright)