So I’m asked if I’d like to review this up-and-coming band from Leeds. I’ve admittedly never heard of them and I think, “Why not? Any live music is usually pretty enjoyable.” I agree, and that’s that for a few weeks. The date is approaching and I figure I should listen to some tracks and get a bit of a handle on this band, Marsicans. Before I hear anything I am linked to a black and white video and I see hair – lots of it. The boys look in their early 20s at most and are all quite classically boy-band pretty. I decide against listening to any tracks and to go in with a fresh ear to the live show, lest I develop any pre-conceived judgements. In the end I succumb to a link later sent in a press-pack of new single ‘Friends’ and it is sort of what I expected. I still decide to reserve judgement.
The band have not long finished a tour with Minnesota’s Hippo Campus, and this date at the Deaf Institute in Manchester is the first show of their UK headline tour. I enter and a friend of mine is there (who I find out was actually drumming in one of the local support bands, sorry Tommy) and he tells me straight away that he has just heard Marsicans practicing some vocal harmonies in the band flat backstage and likened it to a “proper tight barbershop quartet. Amazing.” Like me, he hasn’t heard these guys before, but he reckons we’re in for some good musicianship if nothing else. The crowd is made up of an eclectic selection of age groups, spread out in sections throughout the venue. To the left side of the main bulk of the crowd, by the merch stand, it’s clear that Mum and Dad have come along to watch the headline tour kick-off. The front few rows and main section are made up of spritely youngsters, I’d hazard a guess of ages between 17 and 22. Towards the back of the crowd (where I have plumped to stand) are the intrigued mid-20’s to mid-30’s generation, the back row occupied by the middle-agers. Lastly, at the back of the venue, seated on the Deaf Institute’s large, wooden, stepped platform, sets of couples have decided to sup their drinks and eye-up the band from afar. Enter Marsicans.
They are just as their video had portrayed to me: all wild hair and fresh faced and, I must say, very well dressed – an excellent shirt game – essentially all plain dyed, thick, vintage looking shirts, unbuttoned with white t-shirts beneath. It is sort of like a uniform, but this doesn’t bother me. In fact, I rather enjoy the theme. Surprisingly, they begin with a small wall of noise; for me, a very welcome overture. The crowd begins to move and sway and shuffle and before we all know it, the band are off! Energetic, open-mouthed and with a lot of moving around on stage, we are awash amongst incredibly melodious, dancing guitars and close, tight-tuned harmonies. There are some “doo do doo dos” and the central guitarist, Oli, is alarmingly smiley. You sort of can’t help but smile along, or at least laugh to yourself, almost uncomfortably.
I notice three television screens in the background showing minimal, glitchy and lo-fi, colourful graphics. They’re simple. I like them. I’m a huge fan of glitch-art but anything more than what is on display just wouldn’t fit with Marsicans’ sound; visuals alike, it’s controlled and structured and purposeful. The third song is instantly recognisable as new single ‘Friends’ and even if you didn’t know it as that, you could judge it’s popularity on how the crowd reacts to the first few lines. “Have I got all my friends, or am I losing them one by one?” is sung in slightly nasal tones with perfect three-part harmonies moving across each other, ducking in and out continuously. This one is noticeably less jangly and more noisey, veering into the realms of indie-rock, as opposed to clean indie-pop. I am reminded of being 17 again, watching The Maccabees for the upteenth time, ‘First Love’ era, so I experience an unexpected nostalgia. I should mention that throughout, the crowd are jumping and smashing into each other, smiling wildly whilst boys flick their fringes out of their eyes in horse-like swooping motions whilst girls dance around, giggling and clutching their fists to their chests. It’s a hugely energetic atmosphere. Some electronic elements thanks to a drum machine-come-synth provide some extra timbres and percussion at the middle of the set and one slow-jam even starts with some nice, ethereal sounds; some respite from the jangling guitars and bubblegum vocals.
It turns out, on post-gig research, their September EP ‘The Absence’ was produced by Embrace keyboardist Mickey Dale, and that ballad-like, edgy indie sound really comes through from that. Back to the set, a curve-ball is thrown, and one that I have to admit is not welcome. A slowed down version of Britney Spears’ ‘Oops, I Did It Again’ rears it’s unnecessary head, but it gets a laugh from the crowd so I presume it’s just me being a boring git. Either that or I’m the wrong audience for this kind of noughties nostalgia. There’s another clear hit with the crowd, I later find out to be ‘Swimming,’ followed by the band’s first instrument change-around for the last song, ‘Absent.’ The band have been joking and doling out banter to each other the whole set, but now it’s time to say goodbye to the adoring fans, now glistening with sweat; the air heavy with haze though without the familiar hanging scent of beer – an innocent kind of come-down.
After a 35 minute set there is no encore and it’s instantly lights up. I feel as though only 15 minutes has passed and I’m sort of bewildered that it’s over. Marsicans certainly deliver if you’re after high energy and you fancy letting the joviality of youth mask over your sense of what’s wrong with the world. They’re tight musicians too and definitely deserve the enagagement of a larger audience on a larger stage. If you’re into it, watch this space.