You get the feeling that every night on the current tour by Northern Ireland’s finest post-math-dance-rock merchants And So I Watch You From Afar has been that way. On the back of their most polished and accomplished work to date, All Hail Bright Futures, they pack out the smallest of the Manchester Academy venues on the last night of a stretch originally scheduled for November but cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Judging by the way everyone filters in early, they’ve been biding their time ever since the news broke.
First up though, Londoners Antlered Man have the task of warming up a crowd already nearing boiling point and are thankfully more than up to it. Drafted in for the remainder of these dates at the last minute owing to Gallops’ absence (which we now, unfortunately, know the reason for), their blend of obnoxious jagged noise, stoner grooves and weird nuances (penny whistles, megaphones, singing in character?!) they prove the perfect curveball to kick off proceedings for a largely unsuspecting crowd. Their sound is refreshingly pushing against trend, unlike anything else on the scene at the moment – think a mix between the frenetic, psychotic nature of Future of the Left and System of a Down segueing into the sort of grooves Kyuss would be proud of.
We’ve just about managed to get our head around what we’ve just observed before the tinkling guitars of recent album-opener ‘Eunoia’ shimmer from the PA and the four Belfast boys take to the stage. From here they launch into ‘Big Thinks Do Remarkable’ and it’s clear that energy and enthusiasm are in abundance, and immediately spreading around the room. The huge grin across the face of guitarist Rory Friers is replicated wherever you look and the euphoria is both palpable and clearly humbling to those onstage. By the time they slam into the groove of ‘Ambulance!’, what appears to be the happiest pit in the world opens up and will remain in full swing for the rest of the evening. “This song’s about only doing things that make you happy”, Friers tells us before old favourite ‘Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate’, although he seems to be preaching to the converted on this occasion.
While other instrumental rock bands tend to work on the formula of slowly building to intense emotional peaks, with the occasional out and out banger thrown in for good measure, ASIWYFA have set themselves apart by favouring the latter. On paper, this relative lack of light and shade should be to their detriment, but both on record and in a live setting they have perfected the art of structuring a set of material and are somehow able to sustain their high throughout. The encore gives us chance to catch our breath as they revel in the moment, apparently reluctant to start closer ‘The Voiceless’ as it would signal the end of this run of dates. Its glittering crescendo leaves few keen to head home themselves, and we can only hope they make good on their promise to be back sooner rather than later.
Check out Antlered Man @ facebook.com/antleredman
Check out And So I Watch You From Afar @ asiwyfa.bandcamp.com