The Courteeners - Manchester Phones4U Arena
“Who’s on, mate?” Daft question klaxon. It’s mid-December, we’re in Manchester and Victoria Station is flooded with hyper teens, bullish lads and a very Mancunian sort of middle-aged fella whose Adidas/bomber jacket clobber brooks no argument from either time or taste. They march across the station concourse in their thousands (19 of those thousands, to be precise) and they do so with conviction and passion. People turn out for The Courteeners, solidarity and commitment embodied. Who’s on? Come on.
Even a cynic – and The Courteeners have made laudable headway in recent years on that score – would struggle to begrudge them this, their annual home town celebration. A handful of national dates to add to their 2013 non-stop touring, boosted by Liam Frays’s inability to go more than a few weeks without heading out solo, and then a year-ending barney at the Manc enormodome. It’s what they do.
So Fray nails his arena hat-trick at the end of this, the Anna cycle, a year-long stretch of promotion for that number one album, their third, best and best-received to date. Pre-gig, he warns of an extended hiatus for 2014. Arguably Britain’s hardest-working band, they’ve earned that rest but the jury’s out on how long Fray will sit still. Tonight’s set is a two hour journey through the back catalogue. If you don’t like boisterous crowds who sing along non-stop throughout, The Courteeners live experience is not for you. If you dig things two way and properly communal, pull up a chair. From a barrelling ‘Are You in Love With a Notion’, the floor a rolling ocean of bodies, to the closing ‘What Took You So Long’, Manchester doesn’t hold back. Cool staging, with minimal but effective lighting, ensures sustained spectacle.
As the main set draws to a close – a merciless ‘Fallowfield Hillbilly’/’Take Over the World’ one-two – even the few remaining jewellery-rattlers up in the second tier get to their feet. And they stay there for an (inevitable) solo acoustic brace before the band return for encore number two. As Liam Fray begins the task of trying to express his thanks for the umpteenth time tonight (“Fuckin’ell, Manchester…”), a text from a mate arrives: “Has he done that one about growing up on the miserable streets of Manchester yet?” There was a time when that might have been funny. But The Courteeners, to their credit, stopped playing it for laughs a long time ago and Liam Fray, on this evidence, is in no mood for jokes. While you weren’t paying attention, this lot got serious - even if some, like that quizzical fella on the train (“The who? Never bleedin’ heard of ‘em”), are still playing catch up.