Sleaford Mods @ Academy 1, Manchester, 15 Mar
Sleaford Mods remain the most hearteningly massive band in the UK with a thunderous set at Manchester Academy
Sleaford Mods are at a point one would imagine they never thought they’d be, filling Manchester's more than 2,500-capacity Academy 1 with the sort of fervent fanbase not normally found by people making music as actively obstreperous as theirs. They’re at the point where they can open with a song taken from their barely three-week-old new record, Eton Alive, and it’s greeted with the rapturous response of an old favourite.
Into The Payzone might plod on its mulch of bobbing bass, but ominous glitchy hiccups coupled with Jason Williamson’s fidgety delivery creates a tune that captivatingly tears at its own seams in slow motion. It’s a bold choice, not just because of its newness, but for a band who basically deal in two kinds of song – fast pogo-able ranters and slow, dub-inflected creepers. To start with the latter is almost wilfully awkward of them.
Then the second song kicks in and it makes absolute sense. Tension in the room heightens to a feverish intensity as they launch headlong into Flipside’s mad-eyed gallop, Williamson clinging to the mic like he’s in danger of being blown away. Instrumentally it takes their minimalism to its absolute extreme. A second long loop of bass and drums (the only flourish being the occasional interjection of the bleep they have in newsagents when you go through the door), it throws itself along, Williamson at his sputtering best. It’s these tunes, the faster ones, the ones where they resemble an alternate reality Suicide raised on Viz rather than Marvel, where they utterly seize the crowd. TCR, Jolly Fucker, Jobseeker, Tied Up In Nottz; all crowd favourites, all blistering, visceral brilliance.
Nothing has changed about the stage set-up since these earlier songs came out: still Andrew Fearn behind his laptop, Williamson centre stage. He may now do the odd march up and down the stage, but Williamson’s familiar ticks – the fidgeting, the occasional flouncing pirouette and the streams of increasingly intense profanity during outros – remain and are still utterly captivating. In fact the only onstage concession to the fact they’re now playing enormous rooms is that Fearn now bops from foot to foot as well as head nodding. It speaks though to Williamson’s often under-appreciated skill for melody how many of the songs become massive singalongs; B.H.S. and recent single Kebab Spider’s choruses ring from all corners of the Academy’s cavernous dancefloor. Stick In a Five and Go’s bridge has Williamson imagining himself impersonating a postman to coax someone who’s fucked him off online out of their house, and the audience play along word for word.
But the high point of the night comes with Top It Up in which Williamson’s capacity for narrative, vicious bile and self-analysis coalesce into a heartbreaking account of the addictive behaviours that have only been hinted at throughout their discography up to this point. Williamson, whose delivery of the chorus on record is dead-eyed and emanates a frozen joylessness, is a self-lacerating, twisting wreck for three minutes live, bringing imaginary keys up to his nose with such intensity you fear for the structural integrity of his face. It’s startling for what had for a long time been implicit to be made so viscerally clear. It reminds you that, for them, gigs like this aren’t victory laps for having made it; they are still developing, and they remain the most hearteningly massive band in the UK.
Eton Alive is out now via Cargo Records