Blood Red Shoes - Manchester Academy 3
Fan forums, eh? Ignoring the long held suspicion that they’re no less than the devil’s work and a training camp for the very bitchiest morons the world has to offer, I find myself on the Blood Red Shoes message board just days before this invigorating performance. (There must be easier ways to find out if the support act is any good, I’m sure.) One gentle soul, I kid you not, asks whether it will be okay, being a lone male of middle age, to attend this tour on his own. The general response is overwhelmingly positive. Join our club, coo the masses. But it doesn’t end there – this is the internet and this is fan(boy)dom. There is one sinister condition to all these open arms and it is: Just make sure you don’t stand in front of Laura-Mary, so nobody thinks you’re an old pervert. Other contributors echo these feebly right on sentiments. I can just about remember enough about my own student days to relate to how important it must still be to young men to appear to be so very politically correct in front of their female peers but … for f***’s sake. I think it’s the double standards that stick in the craw. It’s the implication that, oh, we won’t think that but, you know, some might. Like f***ing who?! Drop your grenades and run away, eh? Bah.
I hope (despite having the self-assurance of a butterfly) our friend wasn’t put off by those idiots and I hope he had a ball. I most certainly hope he stood right under the perfectly formed nose of Laura-Mary Carter, Blood Red Shoes’ guitarist and provider, with partner and drummer, Steven Ansell, of searing two part harmonies. If her onstage presence last time she played Manchester is anything to go by (“Suck your dick ? I’ll come and f***ing cut if off”), the last thing she needs is virtual mollycoddling. With tremendous, ante-upping second album Fire Like This to promote, the pair have more pressing concerns. With the ‘sold out’ signs up again, despite an eighteen month absence, Blood Red Shoes assail a steamy Academy with a performance of muscle and steely-eyed focus. As they thunder in with Old Reliable (a pounding ‘Doesn’t Matter Much’), you sense months of unfashionable practice under those belts. BRS are as fiery as they ever were but, boy, they’ve become thrillingly capable. They could only get tighter if one of them left.
Aided by a boisterous crowd (the young men down the front throwing themselves off the stage with gay abandon in a desperate bid to distract themselves from even thinking about fancying Laura-Mary), a beautifully mixed sound (ignore temptation to lean over to the sound man and say “Can’t be that hard, pal … Hardly Arcade Fire are they ?”) and a gleaming, growing songbook that continues to confirm the pair as way beyond the Indie Anthem Conveyor, Blood Red Shoes are quietly becoming magnificent. (Apropos of nothing, Peel, gobbing on the fanboy spoilers, would have loved them. They’d be on their sixth session by now.) The old stuff jostles with the new and debut ‘Box of Secrets’ is picked clean. ‘Say Something, Say Anything’ and an inevitable ‘It’s Getting Boring by the Sea’ shake the walls. ‘This is Not For You’ uncurls itself like smoke over a burning city. ‘You Bring Me Down’ is tonight’s heaviest, bloodiest punch, racing itself to the end, its “Bury your head, bare your heart” hook a surge of monstrous adrenalin. All these songs are welcomed with a wall of love but the new stuff has the potential to upstage them. Despite ‘Fire Like This’ producer Mike Crossley having The Enemy and Arctic Monkeys on his rap sheet, the duo are clearly still in thrall to the American alternative rock tradition. Thank god. ‘Light it Up’, a calling card to the unconverted if ever I heard one, takes Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’ outside for a fag. ‘Don’t Ask’ typifies the blueprint, jittery, insistent and walking that mid-point between uncommonly catchy and … well, almost tuneless, melodies brought into focus by force of will.
The bedrock of their beautifully spare but ferociously animal sound is as evident on ‘One More Empty Chair’ (with its irresistibly sparky chorus) as it is on the closing ‘Colours Fade’, a seven minute drone that recalls Spacemen 3’s ‘Revolution’ and sees Steven tearing off his snare and walking to the front with it while Laura-Mary f***s around under the backline, settles on a particularly nasty squall of feedback and leaves her guitar propped against her amp. And, with that, they exit. Cool as. Their desire to not be part of some watery UK indie scene but to instead relate what they do to an altogether more elevated US school is aspiration matched by aptitude and deep respect for their influences. At times tonight, when they settle into a pre-chorus holding pattern, Laura-Mary buzzing around artful arpeggios and Steven teetering on a cliff of hi-hat and snare, the geometric rasp of the Blood Red Shoes soundboard puts me in mind of Sleater-Kinney, another band for whom bass guitar was a no-no and a band whose undeniable early promise didn’t fully bloom until they’d got those first two or three albums behind them. Which is, it must be said, a thought as sweet as it is scary.