Live Review: The Paper Kites, Manchester Academy 2, 17th Feb 2023

I like to think we all have bands we listen to that are inexplicably hit and miss. They’ll have some songs that you adore with all your heart, as well as songs that you’re honestly pretty indifferent to… but on paper, somehow there’s very little that separates the two. Try as you might, you can never quite put your finger on whatever magical secret ingredient it is that makes certain tracks shine brighter than those around them. They just do; it’s some law of the universe. Australian indie outfit The Paper Kites are a prime example of such a band for me. Some songs barely making a ripple, while others have such a hold over me that they appear in nearly every playlist I make. Their studio albums a little inconsistent, but if you brought the right tracks together as a ‘greatest hits’ I would struggle to ever pull myself away. Keeping my fingers crossed that their live setlist would bring all my favourites together in just such a way, I made my way to catch them in Manchester hoping that elusive magic would be in the air.

A little queueing confusion arose thanks to two gigs occurring at once in Manchester University’s student union building. Half the line for The Paper Kites was actually here for Belinda Carlisle and vice versa, but eventually everyone filtered into the right venue. I’m fairly sure every “Academy 2” type university venue shares the same layout at the very least, perhaps even the same interior decorator. It gave me plenty of time to reminisce about gigs in similar rooms over the years while waiting for the opening act. Now, I’d been struggling with a week of hearing trouble in the run-up to the gig, and when the opener Maro began her first number I had a moment of panic. “My hearing must be worse than I thought, I can’t make out a word she’s singing” – thankfully that was nothing to do with my ears, she was just singing in Portuguese! No, luckily I could hear in perfect clarity her breathy gossamer vocals and soft folk guitar arrangements. Between her assured and expressive performance, her easy-going chatter between tracks, and the fact that she could barely hold back a smile for her entire set, Maro quickly charmed her way into everyone’s hearts. Her Portuguese songs elicited a reaction every bit as warm and enraptured as those in English.

In many ways The Paper Kites’ set was not what I was expecting. It made me realise that in the past I’ve been drawn more to their more synth-tinged indie rock material. While that side of their sound certainly wasn’t absent – almost bookending their set with the neon glow of their two biggest hits from twelvefour, ‘Revelator Eyes’ and ‘Electric Indigo’ – those tracks proved a rare moment of expansiveness in an otherwise sparse and intimate set. A fair chunk of the evening saw the band gathered around a single mic, letting their harmonies ring out over the sparsest of folk arrangements, which also often saw them stepping back into some of their earliest releases. In fact, the evening felt pretty evenly split between their oldest material and their newest, with only brief dalliances with the records in between. Returning to their rustic roots with intimate performances of old favourites like ‘Bloom’ and ‘Tenenbaum’. Sharing tracks from their most recent record Roses, the marvellous Maro made a return to stage to duet ‘Walk Above The City’, and highlight of the night ‘By My Side’ had the whole crowd singing along. There was even an appearance of a new track, ‘Green Valleys’, presumably taken from the forthcoming album that was hinted at only a few days prior. 

It was a gig that made me realise that I’d been neglecting an important facet of The Paper Kites. While I’ve always loved tracks like ‘Revelator Eyes’ and the way they evoke deserted city streets aglow in the dead of night, the gig gave me a deeper appreciation for their folky side, and the way those tracks capture the feeling of being wrapped up alone in a quiet cabin, watching the rain scatter and race across the windowpane. Sometimes hearing a song live can be a transformative process, almost like hearing it again for the first time with a fresh perspective. Just part of the magic of live music; some other inexplicable law of the universe. All I can say for sure is that the quality of the crowd must play a role, as from where I was stood it seemed like Maro and The Paper Kites couldn’t have asked for a more attentive audience. Ultimately I turned up hoping for a setlist packed with all my favourites, and I left having instead heard songs that I know will grow to be new favourites in time.