Saturday 1 April 2023

Ist Ist / Bandit / Dr Dr - Manchester Ritz - 31st March 2023

Ist Ist launched their third album Protagonists with their biggest headline show to date to over a thousand people at The Ritz in Manchester. Focusing heavily on the new record with old favourites to delight those they've picked up on their journey from the Night And Day to here, they made a triumphant statement of intent. Support came from Dr Dr and Bandit.

Dr Dr open up proceedings and they've got a couple of familiar faces at the helm, being made up two-thirds of Saytr Play who've been around the Manchester scene for a number of years before disbanding and recently reforming. With such an enigmatic front man as Fred at the helm, coming down on the barrier and into the crowd at various points even so early in the evening, they engage with an audience that's gone in early to check out the supports. They go down really well - particularly singles Black Gold and their recent second release Sid And Bella, the former having been played on Radio 1.

Bandit are next up and the Liverpool band deliver a very energetic set much in keeping with the reputation that their dozen or so singles over the past four years has won them that warms the crowd up for the headliner. Even I Try Everything Twice which they advertise as slower runs along at a pace with Nat's vocals delivered quick fire like bullets from a gun to keep up with his band mates. Highlight of the set is the final song Mean Streak and they get a warm reception from a now expectant crowd.

Ist Ist have been building towards this for quite some time. It's been a steady but unstoppable progression, the former because of the need to do this pretty much unaided other than a very selected support slots with veteran bands, the latter because they create music that connects with their audience. That audience is mainly older folk to whom Ist Ist create a reminder of their favourite bands, but with a modern twist and their own personality stamped all over it, but there's also pockets of younger music fans around the room tonight as well that we've not seen before at their shows. They've released their strongest record to date as well with Protagonists, an album full of songs that are built to do the heavy lifting that's needed when you get into venues of this size and tonight's twenty-song set features eight of the songs from it as well as established crowd favourites from Architecture and The Art Of Lying.

In many ways this is a band that's built for these big stages, even though they thrill in more cramped confined spaces. The size of The Ritz gives them the room for these songs to fully reveal themselves. The sound and lighting are perfect, the former allowing the detail in Mat's synths, the rasping edges of Andy's bass, the gut punch of Joel's kick drum and Adam's rich emotion-heavy baritone to be fully heard, whilst the lighting perfectly accompanies them in moments of monochrome black and white and then glorious colour as the song dictates. There's no big stage show, no drama, just twenty songs of the most powerful uplifting cathartic music.

They don't say much, Adam says nothing all night, letting his words in the songs do his talking for them. Andy thanks us multiple times for being here and supporting a band that has done this whole thing under their own steam often hitting glass ceilings, walls of silence from radio and press and getting pigeonholed and labelled alongside bands that aren't fit to lace their boots. For those who've been with them on this journey this feels like a proud moment and a vindication and a belief that great music, like water, will always find a path.

Ist Ist know how to build a set. They start with the knockout punch of Protagonists' lead single Stamp You Out and follow it up with the second oldest song on the list tonight, Jennifer's Lips from their second EP Everything Is Different Now. The earlier songs tonight from Architecture - Discipline, A New Love Song and a sky-scraping soaring Black - have had to grow to keep up with their younger siblings. Yet the family DNA is there, some of the Protagonists tracks you can draw the line of development right from their punky thrashy days as a three-piece where the thrill was the same but with less control. Sometimes it's the synths, as on Nothing More Nothing Less and several of The Art Of Lying tracks but at other times it's the blistering raw power of an extra guitar.

The set builds to a climax and the final run-in and encore has an unstoppable momentum to it - like a greatest hits from an alternative universe. Emily opens the encore and has found its perfect position, it's grown with the band from their debut EP Spinning Rooms and steadfastly refuses to move from the set. If they were ever to play stadiums she'd still be there, muscling the rest out of the way. Extreme Greed is soaring and evangelical and in this big room lifts you up even higher whilst You're Mine and Slowly We Escape bring the night to an exhilarating end as they let cut loose the final shackles and leave nothing behind. 

"Let's do this again some time" are Andy's departing words. Yes please. Some of this city's greatest bands have had to fight for years in the early stages of their careers to be heard and acknowledged until they became impossible to ignore any more. Ist Ist are at that tipping point.

Ist Ist played Stamp You Out, Jennifer's Lips, Fat Cats Drown In Milk, Watching You Watching Me, All Downhill, Discipline, Mary In The Black And White Room, A New Love Song, It Stops Where It Starts, Something Has To Give, Fools Paradise, The Waves, Heads On Spikes, Black, Nothing More Nothing Less, Trapdoors, Emily, Extreme Greed, You're Mine and Slowly We Escape.

Ist Ist are on Facebook and Twitter

Protagonists, as well as previous physical releases, can be ordered via their website. Digital versions of their previous limited edition releases and a number of live field recordings are available to download from their Bandcamp

Ist Ist play Leeds Oporto (April 4, with Crash Records), Kingston Fighting Cocks (April 5, with Banquet Records), Glasgow King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (April 13), Newcastle Cluny (14), Nottingham Bodega (15), Birmingham Hare And Hounds (20), Bristol Thekla (21), London Omeara (22) and Whitby Tomorrow's Ghosts Festival (29) before heading to Europe to play Antwerp Trix (May 25), Cologne Artheater (26), Paris Supersonic (27), Rees Haldern Pop Bar (28), Nijmegen Doornroosje (30), Bielefeld Movie (31), Rotterdam Rotown (June 1), Hulst Vestrock (2), Amsterdam Melkweg (4) and Berlin Kantine Am Berghain (5)


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