This Saturday night crowd at Manchester Academy seems to be 90% comprised of students aged 18-21, something that does nothing for my ever-growing insecurity about the remorseless passing of time. In protest, I stand at the back of the room with my girlfriend and tonight’s elderly (over 25) contingent.
They’re playing some nice tunes to get all of us, young and old, primed for The Internet, a band I’d considered nothing more than a minor Odd Future side project until hearing their Ego Death standout ‘Under Control’ back in 2015. Kanye and OutKast boom from the speakers in a venue I’ve somehow not previously visited in my two and a half years as a Manchester resident. Like many venues with ‘Academy’ in the title, it’s a rather characterless space which seems more primed for club nights and DJ sets than a band with a number of talented musicians, but I’m hopeful I’ll be proven wrong.
Drake’s voice fades from the speakers just after 9pm, and the young Californians we’ve been waiting for saunter onto the stage. A baseball-capped Matt Martians sits at the keyboard, dreadlocked duo Pat Paige and Chris Smith take up positions on bass and drums respectively, and multi-instrumentalist wunderkind Steve Lacy picks up his guitar. Lacy is wearing a sensational white bomber jacket with a snake-like motif; the kind of garment that would look absolutely disgraceful on you or I, but he wears with nonchalant class.
My reservations about the venue seem to dissipate almost completely when the collective noodle the opening notes of Hive Mind opener ‘Come Together’ and the calming presence of Syd enters the stage, easing out those Sade-like sighing vocals. This elicits a collection of screams from the students akin to a 2000-era Backstreet Boys gig. This is what we came for.
As the band seamlessly kick into the grooves of ‘Roll (Burbank Funk)’, my favourite track from the new record, everything sounds good – until Lacy starts singing into his wireless headset and the vocals seem lost in the noise. It’s a shame, but the instrumentation sounds good, and after Syd pauses for a chat with the audience, the next couple of tracks sound ok.
However, on delving into their back catalogue, different problems start to emerge. Sure, I don’t recognise these tunes, but everything’s so…loud. The bass and drums pound in the forefront and the other instrumentation becomes barely audible. My girlfriend turns to me and shouts “does this sound bad to you?” I can’t deny that it does.
Things get back on track with newer cuts ‘La Di Da’ and ‘Come Over’. During the latter, Syd shouts “Steve!” and Lacy slides across to centre stage, pulling out a superb guitar solo. For a band that essentially doesn’t have a frontperson, both Syd and Lacy assume the role with ease.
There’s something of the Frank Ocean about Lacy; he seemingly puts no effort into oozing natural cool, completely in command of his instrument and exuding a captivating aura from the stage. No wonder everyone seems to want to work with him right now. He was also somehow born in 1998 which obviously sickens me.
Tonight’s show pretty much carries on with the same up and down trajectory. Sure, the songs I seem to be enjoying the most are the newer cuts, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that – the aforementioned ‘Under Control’ for example is another instance of volume taking priority over the lush instrumentation that I want, whereas ‘Just Sayin’/I Tried’ works much better in this environment – the audience revelling in the track’s “you fucked up” hook.
The Internet are a group of immensely talented musicians and when they sound good, they sound great. Manchester Academy is not the venue to bring out that great sound; it might simply be the place that a great night out starts. And of course I get it – they have to play the venue that fits their profile and their fanbase, and for that 90% of my fellow audience members, this probably sets up their evening perfectly. Have a good night guys – I’m nipping out early before the party gets started.
Words by Tom Burrows