Futureheads topped a four-band bill to celebrate the final night of the Unconvention Festival at Niamos in Hulme on Friday night supported by local acts Saytr Play, Jack Found and Mealtime.
The first word has to go to the venue. Jumping off the 86 bus and heading to an unassuming doorway you might fear the worse given the area's historic reputation but things have been changing in Hulme for a long time now. Once inside you're greeted with an almost perfect yet rough around the edges theatre venue that with a little investment could (and we'd argue should) become an integral part of the Manchester theatre and gig scene, like a mini-Apollo style venue. The Unconvention team have spared little expense in making it into a great space for the four acts tonight with a light and sound set-up that would be the envy of more traditional venues.
Mealtime open up proceedings and despite only having three singles to their name they've got an impressive half-hour set where the standard never drops - and in the dual vocal combination of Sam and Georgia as well as their dance moves, that often contrast in style but yet which feel just right for the music they're creating, they leave an overwhelmingly positive first impression on us. The danceable element to their sound is more prevalent live than on their recorded work to date, particularly on their opening track which repeats the line "peak performers" over a groove that gets the static audience moving and on their side and a mid-set track where they spell out "S.P.E.C.I.A.L." It's refreshing to watch a band that stand out for how they sound and look these days, but Mealtime more than have the songs to make just standing out from the crowd a side note to why they're so impressive.
Jack Found is bonkers. We're not quite sure what to expect as they set up, but him choreographing dance moves for his band, running amok among us and somehow heading upstairs and serenading us while leaning precariously over the balcony rail were probably not high on the list. He and his band really get the audience going, even with unashamed brass in the mix, creating a party-like atmosphere among the conference goers and the front couple of rows who know all these songs and are here to party with them. It's far from gimmicky though as the songs themselves, like Uh Oh and Chinatown (which is prefaced by a strange story of his school teacher who used to visit a prostitute in Chinatown on Friday afternoons) have a real uplifting vibe to them that perfectly dovetails into the eccentricity of the performance. The crowd absolutely adore him as they chase him round the dance floor at the end of the set as he swerves amongst us, all without dropping a note.
It's a tough one for Saytr Play to follow, and Fred is rarely upstaged as anyone who's seen them play will attest to. They take on a restricted set due to time with their usual mixture of high-energy front man showmanship and charisma and songs built around big guitar hooks and punishing drum patterns that keep the dancers down the front moving and draw others down as the set progresses. They mix their most recent single Future with older tracks like Second Hand Emotion, Fragile and Don't Go East with new material from their forthcoming EP - all of which possess the same anthemic singalong qualities that have seen Saytr Play rise to play venues of this size under their own steam in the past twelve months.
The evening is completed by a forty-five minute set from The Futureheads, who bring forward many of those that had watched everything unfold from the raised bar area at the back to mingle among the dancers. They stretch the limits of Niamos' set-up to the very limits, the guitars and drums combining to create a ferocious wall of sound that's right on the edge of distortion but never crosses the line. They're on good form, Barry telling us he's never been slow-clapped on stage before as the initial muted reaction to their appearance is blown away the minute they start to play and taking time out to crack jokes with the audience and the rest of the band.
Their set is a well thought-out mix of tracks from across their long career, taking in four of the strongest tracks from last year's Powers album including Jekyll, Good Night Out and Electric Shock, and going all the way back to Decent Days And Nights, Meantime and Carnival Kids from their celebrated debut, touching in at most points in between. They finish naturally with their cover of Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love, a million miles away from the original as you'd expect with a barber's shop trio of Sunderland lads taking on the vocals. They've got the crowd in their pockets by the end, unable to resist the insistent battering ram charms of their songs and the way in which they deliver them with a large helping of Mackem charm.
The Futureheads' official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Saytr Play are on Facebook and Twitter.
Jack Round are on Facebook and Twitter.
Mealtime are on Facebook and Twitter.