At The Drive-In, Death From Above, Le Butcherettes, Manchester Academy 13/03/2018

With hardcore legends At The Drive-In back in town with Death From Above and Le Butcherettes in-tow, SFN sought out Michael Edward and sent him down to catch the riot.

Bills like this are rare occurrences for normal tour dates, especially considering At The Drive In and DFA both saw healthy success back in the 2000s and are acts you’d expect to see doing their own headline shows come the time to tour a new record, but sometimes you open the bag of crisps and instead of air it’s full to the brim. Lucky us!

The night was kicked off in style by Le Butcherettes, who immediately made an impression. Undaunted by the size of the venue, or their tourmates, their frontwoman put in an intensely theatrical performance that’d see her high kicking whilst playing keys, wildly gesticulating and convulsing in a way it was hard to take your eyes off. Their opener was an atmospheric but huge sounding piece that set the tone for a killer set of off kilter, punk influenced art rock.

Special commendations go out to a powerhouse performance from their drummer. There were multiple highlights, including one song where the frontwoman left the microphone and screamed the lyrics at the few fans who knew their material down in the front row, before the full band crashed in, and probably the most memorable moment of the show where in a song consisting of only vocals and drums, she repeated “take my fucking dress off”, before putting the mic in her mouth and taking off her jumpsuit revealing a red dress beneath, then picking up her guitar and thundering into the next song. Overall, a killer performance that I suspect won them a fair few new fans.

Death From Above were unfortunately plagued by atrocious mixing. If they were touring with their own soundtech, he needs firing. While the Academy isn’t an easy room, essentially being as flattering as an aircraft hangar, their simple bass/drums setup wasn’t given the attention needed, with horrendous EQ problems meaning that often you couldn’t tell what notes the bass was playing, or even hear it at all if the snare drum was being hit. And my god, I don’t know how you can make a live snare sound so bad. It was like St. Anger, but twice as loud, dominating the frequency spectrum. While the band put in a decent performance, it was hard to get much from it considering they were working against sounding like mush out front.

The setlist was a bold choice, consisting greatly of material from the new album, though people started to energise when after 4 new songs they ripped into “Going Steady“, one of the few songs whose riffs were recognisable through the mud. Other highlights included “Trainwreck 1979” and the killer chorus of “Holy Books“, though the new material’s reliance on samples also threw up issues, as a malfunctioning sample pad caused the premature end of Outrage! Is Now, and a false start to another song.

The band seemed to be frustrated with the issues, but pushed on with humour, saying that they only got the sample pad because you have to feed a piano player. At one point drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger commented on someone in the front row yawning, warning that if they do that in At The Drive In‘s show, Cedric will probably piss in their mouth.

DFA‘s set had left me worried that ATDI‘s show would be plagued by similar sound issues, but it wasn’t the case. From the classic maraca intro to “Arcarsenal“, the crowd were instantly whipped into a frenzy, and as those first chords crashed down, my relief was palpable. The band were tighter than ever for the duration of their hour and a half set, perhaps better than in their late 90s and early 00s heyday, if slightly more restrained on stage. Cedric pulled out all the stops as usual, flipping the mic on its cable like Roger Daltrey, launching the mic stand through the air with abandon, jumping off the drum riser, dropping to the floor. Everything you’d expect from the charismatic energiser bunny of a frontman.

However, compared to his younger days, there was a measured pacing to his approach that seemed far more effortless and less ragged. Over the years he’s only improved as a vocalist and his singing was crystal clear. Omar cuts a more collected figure now, focused more on playing fantastically rather than flailing around, letting Cedric carry the weight of engaging the crowd more.

The set was an unexpected crowdpleaser, playing all but 3 of Relationship of Command‘s songs, missing out “Enfilade“, “Cosmonaut” and “Non-Zero Possibility“. They also serviced a good deal of their well loved earlier material, with an incredible highlight coming from In/Casino/Out‘s almost ballad “Napoleon Solo“, which carried all of the vulnerability of its on record counterpart, but with the modern band’s muscle.

The crowd sang every word. “One Armed Scissor” was bravely, and unexpectedly dropped mid set, leading to an intense circle pit and an outburst of crowd surfing. “Quarantined” and “Rolodex Propaganda” both contained extended jams featuring deft interplay and some lush atmospherics from Omar, while the band kept the tension high and the audience on edge. Their new material meshed extremely well with their classics, and despite me not liking the record that much, was performed with a level of vigour such that you couldn’t help but be exhilarated by it.

The set was incredibly well constructed and paced, and left the audience rabid for an encore, which came in the form of a killer rendition of “Pattern Against User” before taking a well deserved bow. It was as slick and professional a show as you could ever get from a band as unhinged as At The Drive In. On this bill, they were in a league of their own.

Words by Michael Edward.

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