Sunday 30 June 2024

Puressence / Concrete Club / Purple Heart Parade - 29th June 2024

Ten years since their last show Puressence made a triumphant unexpected return on Saturday night with a sold out show at Manchester's Albert Hall. Possibly the most anticipated gig of the year saw the hometown heroes surpass even the most excitable expectations with a career spanning set that reminded everyone why they fell in love with them over the course of a decade and a half and left the question unanswered as to why they weren't much much bigger than they were.

Purple Heart Parade open the night and their ambitious soundscapes feel like they were created for spaces like this. Mixing tracks from their very long-awaited debut album with some more familiar material they delight those who've come in at doors specifically for them as well as those hearing them for the first time. Pete Cowap's vocals have heavy effects on them, but that adds a heightened sense of mystery and intensity to their well-received set.

Concrete Club follow, a band we first saw in 2022 sans bassist who they claimed was held in a Paraguayan jail. They've got the hospital pass of a crowd that's now filled the hall waiting for the headliner yet they're not fazed by this. One song they tell us is ska (it is), another's rock and roll as they wrestle with trying to cram a whole range of influences into their own songs. They've started to headline and sell out their own shows around town now and tonight will do that rise no harm at all.

We've seen some of the world's biggest artists in this beautiful Wesleyan chapel, but we've never heard a roar as loud as the one that greets Puressence and which never dissipates across the hour and a half and nineteen songs for which they're on stage. We're surrounded by people who thought this moment would never happen. Rumours of estrangement between members of the band, Jimmy's brain haemorrhage earlier in the year (he jokes "I very nearly didn't make it tonight, I missed my bus" half way through the set in one of his rare aural interactions with the audience) and the financial viability of a long-term return could all have meant that Puressence would remain a beautiful memory, held close to the hearts of those that were fortunate enough to cross their path. 

As the first bars of Near Distance strike up, Jimmy's unique powerful voice leads into the opening line "Been around for ages so it won't change now" accompanied by a backing choir of two thousand disciples, the majority of whom know every single word to every song, all those thoughts dissipate. Friends hug in disbelief as Puressence roll back the years. Walking into the room it'd be unfathomable that this is a band that haven't played a show together for ten years, they sound so perfect. Lowell's guitars, Kev's bass and Tony's drums fuse together and provide the perfect platform for one of Manchester's finest and most unmistakeable vocalists to roll back the years and recreate the magic that lived on in the memories of those who saw them first time round.

Their set takes us on a journey through their five studio albums, fittingly bookmarked by their self-titled debut's opening and closing tracks Near Distance and India. The debut and its follow-up Only Forever make up ten of the nineteen songs, but the depth of quality of Puressence's catalogue goes all the way through to their final studio album Solid State Revival with two tracks Our Numbers Oracle and In Harm's Way. Don't Forget To Remember and Palisades represent their mid-career highs and both soar here like the hit singles they should have been in a world where the music and not the music industry dictate success. They skip from radio-friendly indie - This Feeling wouldn't be out of place in a headlining set in a certain field this weekend - to darker, brooding epics without losing sight of the powerful Puressence DNA.

The love in the room is heartwarming and the strength of it never dissipates throughout. Jimmy points at faces he recognises in the front rows and up on the balconies where everyone is on their feet throughout. There's moments where he stands and takes it all in, visibly moved by the power of the reaction which grows louder and longer with every song until the four of them embrace and take their collective bow at the end of the night. 

What happens next for Puressence will be fascinating to see. They could have sold out the Apollo with this show such was the demand and that would be a natural next step. Taking the band on the road too, although naturally the crowds round the country never matched the size fever pitch atmosphere of their home town shows, save for their immense popularity in Greece. Perhaps EMI might see fit to give their catalogue the reissues they deserve or hand them back to the band. They're all questions for the future though.

Often reunions can be an anti-climax but tonight feels like it exceeds the expectations of everyone in the room, those on stage as well as those in the audience. Puressence might still be one of the city's most underrated bands, but not in the hearts and minds of the two thousand fortunate enough to witness a night that will be talked about for years.

Puressence played Near Distance, I Suppose, Traffic Jam In Memory Lane, She's Gotten Over You, It Doesn't Matter Anymore, All I Want, Palisades, Make Time, Bitter Pill, Standing In Your Shadow, Our Numbers Oracle, Burns Inside, Don't Forget To Remember, Mr Brown, Walking Dead, Sharpen Up The Knives, This Feeling, In Harm's Way and India.

Puressence are on Facebook and Twitter.

Concrete Club are on Facebook, Twitter and  Instagram.

Purple Heart Parade are on Facebook and Twitter.

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