LIVE: Billy Nomates – New Century, Manchester

The stage at New Century is bloody massive. This suited Billy Nomates down to the ground, with the space she needs, and deserves, to throw herself fully into the impossibly energetic performance she puts on.

There was difference tonight compared to the last time we saw her. The extra space, the less passive aggressive atmosphere in the crowd, the change of mood in the new album. All brought to life on that bloody massive stage tonight with nothing more than a mic stand and a lonely cymbal (which, as far as I can remember, never got hit).

I say nothing but a mic stand, but Billy, in a perhaps unconventional move for a set opener, brought out an acoustic guitar, custom Jackson-Pollocked in the artwork colours of latest album Cacti. She set out her vulnerability with opening words and the song choice of ‘Fawner’.

This was indicative of the change of mood that I mentioned. The wild energy is still there, the uncompromising DIY spirit is still there, but Tor looks like a different person tonight. First album she was making fantastic points, tearing society apart with her sardonic observations and scoring feminist yet to be anthems. But there was a frustration. People weren’t listening. The industry was eating acts like her alive. Social media was unforgiving when she turned up to her long COVID-delayed debut tour with no instruments and just a laptop to perform with.

So opening tonight with gratitude and affecting words and the quiet and considered acoustic track opener’ showed a new side to her, underwritten with a subtle “fuck you” to the first tour doubters. Long gone was the need for her to explain herself and even apologise for what should be the obvious satire in her lyrics. This is me. This is an instrument. Welcome to the Billy Nomates live experience.

The huge space allowed her movements to become more deliberate. And they helped bring new meaning to the songs for me. The considered actions were so much more than the wild gesticulation I had previously taken them to be. They were part of the narrative. ‘No’ and ‘Heels’ in particular revealed themselves to me as the aforementioned feminist anthems I had known were there in the lyrics, but had never fully realised before.

Other personal highlights included, ‘Spite’ and ‘Balance is Gone’, two of the liveliest tunes from Cacti, with ‘Spite’ producing wonderfully cathartic singalong moments with the lyrics ‘little boy don’t think you quite understand / don’t you act like I ain’t the fucking man’ and ‘Ah, the state of you, ah, the state of me / No one will love us, we can’t love each other / I just go round and round’. Other than ‘No’, ‘Hippy Elite’ was one of just a few first album tunes to make it on to tonight’s setlist, perhaps another indication of how things have moved on for Tor. The commentary in the song, on the other hand, remains as fresh as ever. ‘Escape Artist’, also from the debut album, served as an enjoyable encore which, while apt just before we left, seemed incongruous when joining in with ‘get me out of here / get me out of this hell hole’. We’d had a huge amount of fun seeing Billy, and finally getting the chance to check out the stylish surroundings of the newly (re)opened venue of New Century. Hell hole it was not.

It didn’t finish quite as early as last time, but I was still out of the venue before 10. Did I feel short changed? No. With energy levels that high, there’s no arguing you get your money’s worth out of a Billy Nomates gig. The best I’ve been to this year so far.

Words by James Spearing

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