Punk quintet Boston Manor hurtled through their recent show in Leicester with energy and emotion, drawing us into their world and refusing to let go.
Dripping in spite and sweat, Blackpool boys Boston Manor whipped a packed Leicester Academy into a desperate frenzy last Friday night. Forgoing older tracks such as Trapped Nerve and Driftwood which have previously peppered the setlist, the band opted for an evening dominated by latest album Welcome To The Neighbourhood. The record swelters in its explorations of suburban stresses in a nightmarish imagination of their hometown, wherein the set is the neighbourhood itself and each of the songs is a different issue that plagues it. Taking on unemployment in the scathing Funeral Party and drug addiction in monstrous finisher Halo, Boston Manor conducted a furious assault on society, the genre and our ears, and left the Leicester crowd bristling with unrest.
Dark, dramatic and doused all over with an alchemistic complexity, Liquid was a prophetic introduction to this fabricated world and a harrowing forewarning to a set overflowing with dismay and acerbity. The song’s recorded cousin features vocals from Trophy Eyes’ John Floreani, but lost none of its acrid punch in his absence with its bristling four-point chord sequence driving the song from the bottom-up. Exploring the way we re-shape our identity to fit into society’s shallow mould, gloomy electronics and yowling guitars set the accompaniment to the urgent vocals of Henry Cox as he laments: ‘I don’t know who I’m supposed to be’.
Inspired by a call from an old friend, Lead Feet was about life’s many routes, and the song’s personal nature shined through onstage. Here, Cox is as excellent as he is frantic and frustrated, wielding an excruciating amount of bluster with his slick and smoky vocal runs, whilst axemen Ash Wilson and Mike Cunniff wreak havoc with their six‐strings behind him. Despite its blustery chords and deeply cynical subject matter, the track featured perhaps the most fervent singalong section of the evening, which left the walls and crowd dripping with cathartic euphoria.
'Liquid was a prophetic introduction to this fabricated world and a harrowing forewarning to a set overflowing with dismay and acerbity'.
Delivered in a dejected drawl, a sense of utter, unfettered tiredness and frustration was completely palpable in England’s Dreaming. Drenched in satire, which felt even hotter and fresher in our current political time, the song mediated on the feeling of detachment and disparity from one’s country and community with Cox’s pithy assertion that ‘I don't think that I recognize this crazy world I'm in’. A persistent metal-influenced riff ensured this disquiet penetrated all the songs’ many layers before dissolving in an extended outro of muzzled synths and minor chords.
A vocal apex for Cox came in the inflamed, punk triumph Funeral Party. Written in binaries which made the song feel as if it was fighting itself, it repeats the word ‘nowhere’ over and over in a winding, drawling canto. Meanwhile, themes of erosion, anguish and absence atop a pulsating bassline terrorised the soundscape like a group of maddened juveniles – ‘this party’s sh*t’, Cox shouts, ‘let’s have our own one’. The millennial cry-to-arms Flowers In Your Dustbin came next and explored humanity’s growing digital disconnect from the world through the metaphor of a dying garden. ‘I threw up blood in the fountain of youth’, snarled Cox, his voice low and abrasive and bowed stance one of furious discontent. Despite its acerbic motif, however, Flowers’ brooding, layered synth screen and cacophony of twanging guitars from the Cunniff brothers set it amongst the more melodic of the band’s assemblage. This kind of mercurial, effects-driven fretwork was a breakthrough on the second record and leaked into the ensuing Digital Ghost, which combined them with heavier drums for three minutes of genre-bending chaos.
'Feeling somewhat sonically stifled in Leicester’s dingy uni venue, the track, with its anthemic refrains and quivering electric breakdowns, begged for a festival stage'.
Dark but never dingy was Bad Machine – Welcome To The Neighbourhood’s second, cinematic single and the set’s raging midpoint. Feeling somewhat sonically stifled in Leicester’s dingy uni venue, the track, with its anthemic refrains and quivering electric breakdowns, begged for a festival stage, and the band have been complying with recent main stage appearances at Download and Slam Dunk. Punk sneer with rock flamboyance, chaotic and cathartic but still deeply contemplative, Bad Machine doesn’t quite know what it is or where it fits, and that’s where its beauty lies.
The brief, ominous instrumental piece, FY1 – with its industrial groans and white noise akin to that of a ‘Blade Runner’ inspired dystopia – was next fused with Stick Up in a homage to the tracklist of the new record. Tracks eleven and twelve became one and the crowd were forced to grapple with a sense of jarring sonic decay, a lot of which the band attribute to the malignant cold of Hopatcong New Jersey, where the new record was composed and produced. The track was transporting and soaked in feeling, and by its conclusion, Cox had his microphone and the crowd dangling on the end of a string.
Burn You Up and Tunnel Vision came next and were amongst the set’s most complex, featuring, amongst the BM brashness, moments of contemplative wistfulness where the Cunniff brothers’ bristling guitars were forced to hold their breath. ‘You poisonous snake, who taught you to lie like that?’, Cox implored in the song’s precarious opening, setting the tone for a vicious assault on loyalty and fidelity and a sly nod to the more apathetic pop-punk of the band’s former years. However, this was juxtaposed with a pre-chorus that saw the tempo plummet for a moment of suffocating stillness, Cox’s gaze steely and voice barely audible as he warned the crowd, ‘you better get used to this’. The preceding Tunnel Vision was a similar amalgamation of soaring highs and dulcet lows; a swirling mass of quivering keys and synths building for almost a minute before the song even began.
Casting a similar North West English gloom over the genre’s sun-kissed Californian roots was the furious Hate You. All shouty vocals and accented drums, Cox spent more of the song in the air than on stage before a swift change in mood for the next track brought him right back down to earth. In a rare hailing to the band’s debut record, Laika was emotional pandemonium. A mediation on lost love and the draining pursuit of dreams, it blended the guilt-ridden lyrics and slow-burning, gut-wrenching instrumentation of a Brand New live show with Boston Manor’s acidic, electric zeal. Wilson and Cuniff swapped Hate You’s craggy reverb for palm-mutes and the mood in the O2 transformed with them; furious mosh-pits dissipated into a pulsating sea of bodies transfixed on a band and a song of scintillating emotional magnitude.
'Being at once superbly sombre and agonisingly sardonic, the Blackpool fivesome managed to contort and mangle an overused emo framework into something deeply astute and raw'.
Achingly visceral and dark, Halo bookended the set. With lyrics like ‘thick brown belt on my arm again’, the track takes a gritty probe to the heroin addiction that plagues the town, as well as acting as a microcosmic commentary on drug dependence globally. Dripping in brash gasconade, Cox paraded the stage to the backdrop of macerating guitars and dark synths galore, demanding the crowd to “get the f**k up” for the final time, inspiring the biggest pit of the night. It was here the crowd became fluid, lulled into a sense of resentful rapture by a bass riff that refused to quit, and returning back to the real world only when the dark, throbbing synths diffused for a final time.
Despite the bitter November cold, Boston Manor lit the Leicester stage alight. Being at once superbly sombre and agonisingly sardonic, the Blackpool fivesome managed to contort and mangle an overused emo framework into something deeply astute and raw that has been sorely missing from mainstream (and DIY) rock circles since the fourth wave of the revival. Although the band’s earlier tracks were sorely missed from the setlist, it is clear that these no longer fit into the band’s evolving political and sonic narrative, as well as their unwavering commitment to moving only forwards. Despite the band’s scathing assault on modernity through the vessel of a fictitious town, tonight, when Boston Manor invited us into their neighbourhood, nobody wanted to leave.