Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Futureheads live, RNCM, Manchester, April 13th 2012

If you're wandering round Manchester in the next few days and somebody shouts "MacIntyre!", it probably doesn't mean they've just spotted Donal filming his latest undercover series - they may just have been at the Royal Northern College of Music last night.

The Futureheads ended their ten-date a capella tour in style at the RNCM Theatre, supported by the brilliant Cornshed Sisters and further guests including the Northern Quarter Boys' Choir.

Events kicked off at 8pm with an accomplished 45 minutes from the Cornshed Sisters, adequately filling their role as warm-up act with a set that started slow and emotional, before building to a faster, more upbeat tempo. True to the spirit of the tour, they threw in some a capella music, along with tracks from their newly released album, Tell Tales.

As a four-piece, the girls work incredibly well - each with their own distinct style and voice, but with harmonies that soared to the ceiling of the RNCM Theatre, a venue the Cornsheds claimed to be 'too good for them', before delivering a performance that's likely to make many audience members disagree.

We were advised to get there in time to catch the support act, and I'm truly glad we did - the girls performed original music to an excellent standard, and fully served their purpose in setting the stage for the main event.

You can grab a three-track preview of Tell Tales using the widget above, or click below to visit the album page on iTunes for more previews and purchase links.
Tell Tales - The Cornshed Sisters

With the Cornshed Sisters out of the way, there was just time to grab a pint before the main event of the night - a two-hour set from The Futureheads that was at times hilarious, at times emotional, and occasionally involved the audience in true live-gig style.

Although the tour was ostensibly a capella, there was plenty of acoustic music too, with a whole rack of strings brought on to the stage at the start that ranged from ukuleles to cellos - and a few guitars, as you might imagine.

I was pretty pleased to see the set open with Richard Thompson's Beeswing, one of several cover versions to make it on to Rant, and one of my own favourite songs by Thompson. The Futureheads performed it as a group - as with much of their live music, there's no feeling of any one member really 'owning' the stage - and with plenty of flair.

The enduring sense from the first verse (and through until the end of their encore) was that a capella is not just a gimmick for the four-piece, and the academic surroundings of the RNCM helped to hammer home the impression that the genre is alive and well, and every bit as entertaining and relevant now as it has ever been.

An eclectic set list incorporated drinking songs, sea shanties, the Black Eyed Peas and a few Futureheads classics, including the moving News and Tributes, a particularly fitting choice for Manchester thanks to its historical references to the 1958 Munich air disaster.

With just two days off among their ten tour dates, the strain was beginning to show a little - not on the group, but on their instruments. A snapped guitar string and a broken strap reduced the number of instruments available, and forced a couple of the performances to be slightly more 'a capella' than intended. And an ill-timed fade-out of the lights led to minor disaster as Jaff smashed the resin for his cello bow. Oops.

Other than that, things went fairly smoothly, even when the audience were called in to help with claps, clicks, foot-stamps and cries of "MacIntyre!" (during the classic drinking song, When The Old Dun Cow Caught Fire), and a generally good time was had by all.

As befits the last night of a tour, the Cornshed Sisters returned to the stage for the last few songs, accompanied by the Northern Quarter Boys' Choir, and the singers stepped back from their microphones to fill the auditorium with what felt like genuinely unplugged vocals.

With at least 20 people on stage, and a good mix of male and female voices, those performances in particular brought the evening to a crescendo, and were among the most absorbing of the night for me. Soon enough, though, it was over, and The Futureheads rounded off the main gig with a final few minutes on their own, after thanking the departing Cornsheds and Boys' Choir.

An all-too-brief encore satisfied the rousing calls for more - the group joked that they hadn't stayed off the stage for long enough to build suspense, but there had been time for thunderous applause, foot-stamping, shouts for more and a slow handclap. There may have been a riot if they hadn't come back out as soon as they did.

Hounds of Love - in a capella, naturally - was the final song of the night, a perfect balance of humour and emotion that summed up not just the previous two hours, but the full three hours since the Cornshed Sisters had first stepped on to the stage.

As far as I could tell, the audience left in good spirits, with an open invitation from The Futureheads to make the short walk to the Deaf Institute to join them at a Prince night. Any gig where you're left with an invite to party with the band has got to be good...

The Cornshed Sisters have several further live appearances coming up, including London's Rough Trade West Instore today (do they not rest??) and the CornShed Festival in North Yorkshire on July 6th.

The Futureheads - Rant is out now, and you can read our full review here or click below to visit the album's page on iTunes.
Rant (Bonus Version) - The Futureheads

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