On a heavily rescheduled date, The Beths managed to overcome an absent lead guitarist, a collapsing stage backdrop and a re-jigged setlist to produce a fine performance with their tried and tested blend of joyful love and bitter self-loathing at Manchester Club Academy.
It says a lot about the Beths that they were able to produce a live album as impressive as their ‘Auckland, New Zealand, 2020’ offering after just two albums but a re-arranged Manchester gig on a Tuesday night 11,000 miles away from home represents an altogether different challenge to that of a sold-out local crowd and yet so far away from where these songs were written they still capture the imagination of a grateful, introspective crowd.
Opening a set with a song named ‘I’m Not Getting Excited’ proves to be something of an oxymoron as the band burst through their first stages of the setlist with this, Great No One and Don’t Go Away, quickly dissipating any worries that the quartet temporarily turned trio weren’t going to deliver on the night.
For those of us who aren’t quite as up to speed on social media, it originally comes as a surprise to see the band emerge on stage without Jonathan Pearce. After a few songs, it’s revealed that the lead guitarist has tested positive for COVID and despite being in Manchester, is unable to perform.
This has led to vocalist and rhythm guitarist Elizabeth Stokes having to learn a few of Pearce’s solos in the back of the van on the day’s drive from last night’s showing in Swindon. She jokingly apologises for only attempting half of these, but in truth the odd bum note and false start is quickly forgiven in the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the night.
Happy Unhappy is always a fans’ favourite, the despondency at allowing oneself to open themselves to the pitfalls of love such a relatable topic for a song that typifies the kind of bouncy, infectious indie pop that have won them said fans. An unlikelier highlight is new song When You Know You Know, which from the first note has heads nodding and shows the potential to be a stand-out from a future album that may be in the pipeline.
Given the nature of the gig, the band have clearly decided to play around with the usual setlist, picking out some older songs such as Idea/Intent that fans may not have heard live for years. It’s ramshackle in nature at times, with the bird-based backdrop struggling to stay upright a characteristic of this feeling, but none of it takes away from the fun for one second. Those who’ve been waiting to see the Beths through the pandemic and the more recent reschedules will surely be going home with the feeling that it was all worth the wait.
Another new track by the name of Silence goes down well and showcases Stokes’ range. You get the feeling she’d be as comfortable producing the kind of haunting solo output we’ve seen from Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief in recent years but for now, we’ll gladly take more of this bubbly, vivacious guitar sound thank you.
Future Me Hates Me is unsurprisingly another highlight, belted back ferociously from a crowd that most likely had this song as their introduction to the Beths. It’s the kind of song you can imagine kids across the globe sticking on repeat when it feels relevant and relatable. It’s undeniably bitter and angry while being catchy and soulful. It probably shouldn’t work, but this genre seems to have a knack of capturing it and this track feels like the perfect example.
As an encore we’re treated to a delightful first ever live showing of Stokes’ solo You Are A Beam of Light. It’s captivating and again showcases Stokes’ range. It’s a song about missing somebody, being far away from somebody you care about that’s going through a hard time. After the last two years, it’s understandable that such a song should bring a tear or two from a physically still but clearly emotionally moved audience.
To finish with, bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck return to the stage to get bodies moving again with A Little Death, a more uplifting, loving ending to a fine night’s work in what can’t have been easy circumstances.
There will have been disappointment in some corners with the lack of Pearce solos and a few big hitters such as River Run missing from the setlist but to send so many members of the Academy crowd home happy in such challenging conditions was testament to the skill and joy of Stokes, Sinclair and Deck tonight – even reimagined as a ramshackle power trio.
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Written by Dean Smith