Blood Red Shoes - Manchester Club Academy
There was a time, way back when, at some point during what we’ll hurriedly call The Wilderness Years, when I would have killed for Blood Red Shoes. Killed for them. Died for them. Either. Perhaps both. And while we’re emptying the closet marked ‘regret’, rather than Wilderness Years, let’s go with The How To Fuck Up Your Life Years. There’s your doomed romanticism in a snappy by-line, a grim compartmentalising of the whole pathetic and self-regarding mope of every 19 year old male who ever steadfastly ignored the various responsibilities of, ooh, education, family, moolah and being nice to girls who deserved so much better. Ah. Just when you think you’ve moved on…
Moving on. I love that I love Blood Red Shoes. And, perhaps borne of a lasting appetite for the contrary and apposite that I began developing when predictably young and stupid, love that you don’t. Not you. But you. Yeah, you. You who don’t get, don’t like. You sniff the sense of inclusion, clock the age of their audience, spy that their heritage (an under-appreciated re-modelling of the US alt-epoch, all ziggurat guitar, punk thrust and dismissal of the weak-kneed Brit scene) necessarily sports a Groovy Gang-repelling pop sensibility. Take ‘Light it Up’, with its worryingly tasty hook, its brooding verse so very reminiscent of just about every Nirvana song that ever made it to the radio – it’s just too likeable. Those main stage slots at Reading and Leeds, they’re just too… common herd. Right?
In the late 80s, the early 90s, those wonder years that spawned so many of the seminal American guitar acts who you suspect Blood Red Shoes correctly hold dear, there was no Blood Red Shoes. Kids, seriously, we didn’t have duos back then. Those indie fields of gold, they gave up their sweet crop with nary a word, enriched with the sun of a buzzing, daring scene. Twas the land of plenty, young ‘uns. If any fucker had dared present us with the ludicrous notion of just two people being given a record deal and headline tours, we’d have laughed them out of the ‘Alternative 12”’ section with their DMs tied around their neck.
That said, Blood Red Shoes are in their twenties, but they get youth. For those of us old enough to be their parents, those of us not part of their expected demographic, they appeal because, while we continue to gobble up new music like the best of you hip kids (tip-off: once the school run’s a thing of the past, going back to the fun stuff is sweeter than it ever was), it’s cool when a band as cool as Blood Red Shoes seems to meet you half way.
Alright, fella, they seem to say. You want in? It’s open house, man. But bring your kids, yeah? (For the sixth time, I bring my kid. Blood Red Shoes are, six or seven years after we discovered them, still our band. Which is all kinds of great.) So, perhaps us old fuckers sense that they get our youth, too: our bright younger days, as well as that ever-present sense of being younger than we actually are. Note, four albums in, a shift in their audience that befits their generosity. No longer the exclusive preserve of teens and students, half of tonight’s audience are over 30.
So you, yes you, you hear the quiet-loud progressions, you clock drummer Steven Ansell’s call and response ring-mastering, and you sniffily dismiss. Your loss. So much about this uncompromising, articulate, developing (recent album Blood Red Shoes signals their growth as songwriters, musicians, arrangers) duo thrills and unsettles in equal measure. Perhaps, on reflection, you could be forgiven for questioning their onstage imbalance – Laura-Mary Carter stage-front, all hair, mood and blurry fingers, focused on her guitar, hardly registering the audience, as ever saying little beyond the odd thank you. Stage-right, Ansell stands atop his kit, a born rabble rouser. Then again, perhaps you couldn’t.
Sure, it’s not immediately obvious where they fit. Carter’s increasingly distinct playing (dead certs on her influences list – Bob Mould, Carrie Williamson), an angular, precise series of arpeggios and major bar chords whose strictures leave little room for improv, mark her as less appealing than the current vogue for wanky dicking about. But I’d take her elegant melodics above a sea of nerdy indulgence any day of the week. She’s a super smart player. This is highlighted, it has to be said, all too seldom. Which is a shame. And a little bit of a disgrace.
So, tonight? Tonight’s fucking tremendous, the best this proven live proposition have sounded since those first pre-album tours when they were beautifully ragged and free. They play for 80 minutes, which is the longest touring headline set they’ve assembled so far. No ‘Doesn’t Matter Much’. No ‘It’s Getting Boring by the Sea’. No ‘One More Empty Chair’. A bunch of nailed-on fan faves ditched in favour of half of the new album and equal representation for albums one to three. Yet still they’re able to pick greedily, a savvy mix of old and new. A punishing ‘Don’t Ask’. ‘Lost Kids’ with that cliff edge pause before they lunge for the second verse. ‘Colours Fade’, that almost formless drone, overloads and transports.
A closing brace of ‘I Wish I Was Someone Better’ and ‘Je Me Perds’ scours the synapses. Scattered within, the best of the new stuff: ‘An Animal’, with its sly Arctic Monkeys fixation; ‘The Perfect Mess’, an anthem as muscular and unstoppable as anything in their repertoire; best of all ‘Everything All at Once’, hook-heavy and indicative of that deepening compositional craft. Pinpoint observations, pithy vignettes, acutely detailed half narratives: Blood Red Shoes swerve sloganeering, and they pass on those obvious, awkward intimacies, instead tempering the abrasive tone of their lyrics with something less immediately graspable and appealingly opaque. During the closing, squalling meltdown of ‘Colours Fade’, a couple with Serious Glasses look questioningly at each other and then, wrinkle their noses as one. Me, like everybody else, I smile throughout.
So. Blood Red Shoes. Still here, still doing what they do with little regard for the outside world, still offering a finger to the embarrassing, shifting loyalties of the tastemakers. Still quietly magnificent. Love ‘em. You don’t. But I do. And you know what? I think they love me too.