Well here’s a Belwood first for you: a live review double feature! There are plenty of bands and artists which I will happily see time and again, tour after tour, but until now I can’t recall every seeing someone twice on the same tour. I feel like there’s a line there, crossing a threshold from casual fan into something deeper. As much as I may admire and envy the old hippie Deadhead lifestyle of following a band on tour in a VW camper, it requires a level of devotion that I (and indeed most people) would struggle to muster for just one special band.
While I’m not at the point of following them around the country in a campervan (those things are expensive!), The Dear Hunter are definitely the band that comes closest. Their five Act concept album series is one of the most compelling musical rabbit holes I’ve ever dived down, and the one I most wish I could forget for the purpose of hearing it for the first time all over again. So, after waiting what felt like forever for one of my all time favourite bands to make it back to the UK, I knew just one gig wouldn’t be enough.
But first, credit as always has to go the the openers. At Night & Day the evening began with local post rock outfit Civil Service. Their densely woven instrumental passages at times lacked finer details and subtlety, but there was a certain cinematic quality at work. Their setlist portrayed a life’s journey from birth to death, and each segment I felt was reflected well in the music itself. Over at The Bodega it was the accident prone Redwood (with two members sporting bandages) who opened the show. Some misfortune still clung on to them in the form of minor technical gremlins, with the quieter passages plagued with a bit of buzz and feedback, but thankfully it was mostly resolved towards the end of the set. The lads brought heaps of energy to the room, with their roaring impassioned harmonies being the real ace up their sleeve.
Sometimes it can be hard to know how a band can live up to their studio performances in a live setting, especially when playing material from a record with a lot of intricate moving parts. A lot of what made The Dear Hunter’s Act IV and V so compelling was their lush orchestration; but seeing as there was barely enough room for the six of them onstage (especially at The Bodega) never mind a whole orchestra, I was reasonably expecting some small spark to be missing. Starting their set on a high with ‘The March’, the explosive emotional climax of Act V, I was stunned how well the band captured the epic feel of the studio version, and that moment really set the tone for the night to come.
Throughout the set, they never lost a shred of their playfulness and theatricality. From the slow burning menace of ‘The Most Cursed of Hands’, and the raucous vaudevillian stomp of ‘Mr. Malum’, to the delightful debauchery of ‘The Revival’s irresistible chorus, they brought a grand cinematic scope to these small stages. While I’d have loved a longer set, as most folks would say about their favourite bands, all the biggest highlights that were top of my wishlist were present and accounted for – and it’s only just now that I’m realising they’re nearly all “villain” songs, so I guess bad guys really do have more fun. I can’t be the only one with that mindset as fan favourite ‘The Bitter Suite IV and V’, and it’s intense Disney Villain energy, brought the house down in Manchester in particular.
The whole band were a well oiled machine, but a special shout out has to go to Nick Sollecito on bass. All too often are bassists just lost in the mix, but whether playing expressive and intricate sections, or providing a real punch to the gut, he was always on form. He added some extra bite and heaviness to old favourite ‘The Church and the Dime’ and got chance to shine in their funky new material like ‘Ring 7’ which saw it’s release on the night of the Manchester gig.
Though the setlists ended up being the same on both nights, the two gigs had very different vibes. The crowd in Night and Day Cafe was positively electric, folks from all walks of life singing and moving to the set wholeheartedly. What I’d give for every gig I attend to have a crowd as enthused and invested as that one! By comparison the energy was sadly a little off at The Bodega, with a few bad eggs more interested in shouting random bullshit than enjoying the show. However, Nottingham made up for it with some of the best lighting I’ve seen in such a small venue. Having a properly functioning mirrorball for the disco delights of set closer ‘King of Swords (Reversed)’ was just the icing on the cake. Seeing multiple dates on a tour is exhausting in the best possible sense, and whether I’d do so again next time around may depend on whether it takes them another whole six years to make it back to the UK. But in the words of ‘The Revival’: It took a little longer than we hoped, but it was worth it!