We Are The Ocean - Manchester Academy 1
They say the world's dumbing down, and how. These days, gigs come with instructions - would you believe it? "Manchester! Make some noise!" Er, do we have to? Is it mandatory? Let me just check those T&Cs... Hey, if you wanna get by in this life, you do what you're told. Everyone knows that. Witness a sweatpit of 2,000 squirming bodies, in thrall to The Blackout and responsive to their every, barked command. "Right, during this next song we wanna see every single one of you on your feet." Mmm. It's an all standing venue, fella... The rise of the Welsh six piece doesn't so much mystify (no-one should be that surprised that nothing-to-say, anthemic, fist-pumping clang strikes a chord with a particular demographic) but their ascent from no-hopers to a reasonably big deal seems to have gathered unexpected pace. I must have dozed off. Their live show is a battery of breakneck beats, ugly lighting and showmanship from the ark. Or 1970s northern working mens' clubs. This between-song banter is, to be fair, an attempt at off-the-cuff japery laced with small-town humility. Which is fine, but it's all a bit Les Dennis and Dustin Gee and, call me a cynic, but that's not progress, is it? Take note of the look (matching denim jackets, tight black vests, a stage show that recalls the glory days of Ratt and Poison) and you register the painful truth: The Blackout are the campest band in the history of the world.
Who needs headliners, anyway? Us smarty-pants are in place early for notable support act We Are The Ocean. They played next door at Academy 2 back in April and tore the place apart quite magnificently. So it's not 'their gig' tonight - like they give two hoots. Manchester goes nuts for 'em. Quite right, too - in a scene fit to busting with more flabby alt-rock outfits than there is guitars and Alexisonfire records to go round, WATO are a whip crack response to those whose aspirations go no further than the lazy desire to follow a scene. 'Time Is Temporary, Trouble Is Tonic' ignites, Dan Brown scales his monitors and the floor starts to melt. Up here in the balcony, you feel for the front few dozen rows. It's like The Somme as captured by Hieronymous Bosch.
Given a mere half hour, WATO make a mockery of their place on the bill. If their strongest suit remains Liam Cromby, he of the velvet vocals and low-slung Les Paul, it's their growing stature as a unit that really impresses. Brown is the jumping jack lead with a voice forged from chewed glass but he and Cromby hit the harmonies like old pros. As a five piece, they just work. They look the part and, mixed with uncommon clarity tonight, they sound superb. 'What It Feels Like' is a grunge-flecked anthem, an indicator of influences beyond the usual. 'Overtime Is A Crime' destroys the blocks, meets itself on the way back. 'The Waiting Room', that devastating call-and-response between the two singers, is their blistering sign-off.
Fusing both blitzkreig kinetics and tender soulfulness within their expansive sound, they're gonna need a bigger stage than this very soon. With huge crossover potential, they're both commercial and uncompromising in the same breath. They sidestep too many clichés to be ignored. Oh, and they don't patronise their young audience, which marks them out as distinctly superior.