Of Mice & Men | 02 Ritz | April 23rd
Of Mice & Men, on tour round Britain at the moment, are a fairly new, high energy, American metalcore quartet – not, as I originally thought, a staging of John Steinbeck’s classic novel of the same name (in my defence, Of Mice and Men was on at the Opera House in April and was apparently also pretty great. But the point is I don’t know very much about metalcore, or screamo, or nu-metal, and there is no doubt this gig was catering to the cultural scene who do. And who love them.
It was a pretty typical icy spring night out in Manchester but the audience (all wearing black with lots of white gothic lettering on the t-shirts and showing off a high proportion of tattoos, shaved heads and beards) was big enough to warm up that grand high ceilinged venue at the O2 Ritz. Sadly we were not allowed on the balconies, but that made perfect sense once the bands started playing: half the men in the audience wiped off their black hoodies and shirts to mosh topless and crowd surf towards the stage. I saw more than one person fall or get dropped or tripped up, but there was always a someone to pick them up, dust them off, and dive back into the fray with them. The whole night was that strange mixture of very rough and kind of civilized that heavy music in Manchester seems to do really well.
The opening act, Sylar, were in Manchester for the first time and they seemed to be enjoying it. Manchester certainly enjoyed them. A New York based hip-hop meets post-hardcore rock band with an edgy urban look and sound they were delightful surprise. Thomas Veroutis on the drums also had a computer and there was definitely a produced-feel to the set, but it worked really well to combine two musical languages I’ve never heard together before. Sylar‘s lyrics are fantastic, fast and dark and Jayden Panesso’s vocals and stage presence made for a great opening. It seemed most of the crowd already knew the second act Wage War (emphasis on wage, not war), from Oscala Florida. Their anthems and heavy ballads are slightly more traditional metal but with weirdly good nods to pop and occasionally even a country music references. Briton Bond is an intense and energetic front man and Cody Quistad, second vocals and on the guitar, has a really beautiful voice that brings in a purer note to some of the songs, that balance made their set I think.
The whole gig had consistently good technical sound and there were some love fancy light shows that seemed well wrapped round the music but Of Mice & Men really know how to use a stage. Drummer Valentino Arteaga was high up above the rest so we could properly appreciate the fabulous work he was putting into the show and rhythm guitarist, Alan Ashby, was raised up on a bit of platform so that the whole band was staggered across the stage. Lead singer Aaron Pauley also has a great way of directing the audience (a little bit like the caller at a ceilidh?) and in-between some fairly melodic, if still characteristically heavy and raw singing, he organised the audience to a circle mosh and at one point divided us in two – like Moses parting the Red Sea – so that at the perfect point in the song the crazy ‘dancers’ could run full tilt towards each other in colliding waves of raw energy. Those in the audience who didn’t want to mush could step out of the danger zone easily enough but it’s kind of crazy to see that sort of violent dancing being organised and set up from the stage.
Most of Of Mice & Men’s set came from their new album Defy and there’s a good mixture of harsh anger both in the lyrics and the style and some pretty straight singing. The last song of their set Ya Dig managed to incorporate a bit of both and there was a dreamy backing track to it that really held the two together. They came back after much shouting from the audience for a couple of high energy encores during which allot of half full beers were thrown up above and into the audience as they had their last mad screaming, jumping, banging into each other minute. And then we all filed politely out into the drizzle apologising for jostling each other in the door ways.
by Tessa Harris