Blood Red Shoes - Manchester Academy 2
This won’t trouble their ‘best night of the tour’ list. Somewhat against the odds, Blood Red Shoes’ fourth show in this building in as many years doesn’t ignite. Arriving in the wake of their strongest album to date, here’s a chance for the duo to really test their metal (sic.) And, despite their avowed intent to not be cowed by the demands of translating a layered, template-trashing work to the unforgiving demands of the stage and their own sparse set-up, they kind of take the easy way out.
In Time To Voices is a rewarding adventure, its depth and ambition a statement of intent from its maturing creators. But tonight it succumbs to the bludgeoning might of its predecessors. A safe-as-houses opening (a sharp one-two of fan faves ‘It’s Getting Boring By the Sea’ and a bullet storm ‘Don’t Ask’) and a mere five tracks from the new album is a head-scratcher: unable, or unwilling, to deliver its riveting schizophrenia?
So, scene set, the atmosphere is polite rather than rowdy. A frustratingly conservative set list follows. New diamonds (the jagged anthemics of ‘The Silence and the Drones’, the blistering ‘7 Years’) make way for half a dozen tracks from each of the first two albums. Yes, the likes of ‘Say Something, Say Anything’ and ‘I Wish I Was Someone Better’ blow the house down. ‘Keeping It Close’ and ‘Light It Up’ remind you why they seem so keen on revisiting second album Fire Like This. But most of tonight’s high spots are fresh and unproven – the over-reaching ambition of In Time To Voices set the challenge of smouldering without the safety net of double tracking, strings, layers of backing.
Take the startling title track, its opening a dark, woozy psychedelia, its express train thrum is paddles sparking around your sternum. The staccato buzz of ‘Down Here In the Dark’ is electric, too, Laura-Mary riffing viciously, the spirit of Tom Morello channelled. Best of all is ‘Lost Kids’, the new single, a penetrating stab of indie pop and Blood Red Shoes’ smartest combination yet of their proven clout and their emerging tuneful, deliciously commercial, inclinations.
Still, a winning performance isn’t enough to inflame the event. Maybe upgrading to the 1,000 capacity Academy 2 (a healthy ¾ full) works against them. Used to a packed room cooking up a storm, it’s almost as if the pair are swallowed up in the larger hall. The rear half of the room is almost improbably clean-cut – wine bar couples and tidy hipsters chatter throughout. Growing popularity sure comes at a price but the presence of so many onlookers is baffling. Did a couple of hundred freebies get handed out on King Street?
Amidst confusion like this, here’s a light: divorce yourself from your surroundings and rise above the torpor in parts of the room and Blood Red Shoes are unerringly magnificent. They play spectacularly well, as ever. Fuelled by the punk ethics that saw them align themselves with the American underground over the wishy-washy UK scene, they manage their repertoire with daring commitment, a dedication as brutal as it is loving. If Steven Ansell, despite being plonked behind a drum kit, always came across as the leader, his partner starts to emerge with stealth - Laura-Mary Carter, taking artful charge of her instrument as easily as she’s claiming her half of the stage.
The easily distracted, bawling god-knows-what into each others ears, fixed on sapping any chance of atmosphere, are the real losers tonight. We move a handful of times to escape these fools tonight, but I’d still walk through fire for an evening with Blood Red Shoes.