The Red Stains' first gig of 2022 was an intimate affair in the makeshift venue of the basement of Stage And Radio on Port Street in Manchester's Northern Quarter. With a significant crowd already in for the opening band, their ten song set gave an exciting and thrilling reminder of their fascinating pop / punk crossover.
With 2021 recruit Cesca now firmly embedded in The Red Stains line-up, the four-piece now feel settled and established and the sometimes destructive chaos of their early shows, magnificent as it was, appears to be consigned to the past. It's been replaced by a controlled but spontaneous energy, propelled by the hard-edged rhythm section of Sterling on bass and Ben on drums allowing Cesca to work her magic with the contents of her ironing board keyboard stand and for Natalie to prowl the room stepping off the imaginary divide on the floor between stage and audience to bring these songs into the audience's faces.
The older songs - opener Trolley Dashers, Freezer Jesus and debut single Mannequin - have been beefed up and pack a harder punch without losing the element of fun that The Red Stains take with them wherever they go and that they'll never lose. Natalie buzzes around the stage and the floor, lost in a world of her own, almost taking Sterling out at one point with her mic while encouraging her to sing or bump-dancing with Cesca as Smile hits its funky breakdown section. Their cover of Madonna's Material Girl might lead to fatwas from the most hardcore of her fanbase such is the irreverence to the structure of the original, but it has all the attitude and spirit and intent of the original even if it wears different clothes.
They've got a message to impart though behind that fun and there's no shortage of targets for their ire - THAT man who tells a woman to smile because they look prettier when they do (Natalie shows her disdain by raising her middle finger as she tells us the inspiration for their last single Smile), the debt collectors that pursue young people (the newest song and certain single Cashing Out that shows their progression as songwriters), the gogglebox culture of TV Static and the rather more sedate sworn enemy that is the Metrolink ticket inspectors (Jump The Met).
Slowly but surely The Red Stains are morphing into a band to be taken very seriously indeed. The rough edges are being smoothed a little, but it makes the ones that remain even sharper and more pointed, their anger more controlled but more powerful for it and musically they're a world apart from where they were two and a half years ago. Their crowds are growing too, a mix of those who witnessed those early shambolic yet brilliant outings, the people they've picked up on the way and the curious or those who've stumbled upon them for the first time.
The Red Stains played Trolley Dashers, Freezer Jesus, Cashing Out, Pacer Train, Mannequin, Jump The Met, TV Static, Mother's Ruin, Smile and Material Girl.