Boston Manor – Level III, Swindon, 24/05/17

Boston Manor Swindon tour poster

I’ve been helping to promote Boston Manor’s Slam Dunk warm-up show since it was announced so, as you can imagine, I was buzzing when the night came around. It’s hard to believe almost two weeks have passed already! Sorry for not getting a review up earlier: it’s been a crazy fortnight.

Opening the show was Dan O’Dell, aka Heartwork, a man who’s visited Swindon quite regularly over the last couple of years. This was a special set for Dan, because it doubled as the launch for his debut full-length album, ‘Things I Wish I’d Said’.

The recorded version of the album has full band accompaniment, but Dan was flying solo at this show. He joked that it was because he couldn’t afford to hire musicians, but I think it’s because he loves being in the spotlight. Dan’s a natural performer: not only is he an amazingly talented guitarist and an emotive vocalist, he’s a comedian too. Sharing anecdotes about his friend James (who looks exactly like James Rowland from A Way With Words), his ex-girlfriend the “professional burlesque dancer” (*cough* “STRIPPER!” *cough*) and the age-old saga of the cat who got away, it’s impossible not to giggle constantly between – and often during! – Dan’s songs.

Things never go smoothly during a Heartwork set. It’s becoming a running joke: just how many things can go wrong, and how easily Dan can deal with them and recover. Starting his half an hour stage time by forgetting the words to brand new track ‘Every Thorn’, it wasn’t long before he was singing his guitar rather than playing it on ‘Achilles Friend’. When you gotta tune, you gotta tune!

‘The Right Thing’ was certainly a special moment. It’s the heaviest track on the album, featuring a guest appearance from Dan’s friend Ben, of B-Sydes. I wasn’t sure how it was going to translate to acoustic, and neither did Dan. He opened the song by admitting, “it has some cheeky guitar riffs, but I can’t get away with that on an acoustic, so I’m just gonna drop some chords for three minutes!”. But making the song acoustic wasn’t the problem. Turns out, Ben sings too high. Dan can’t hit those high notes, so instead of attempting to he decided to yowl and yelp his way through his friend’s verse. With one of my best friends leaning over and whispering in my ear, “Is he okay?”, I was delighted to tell him, yes. This is a completely normal Heartwork experience.

There aren’t many artists who make me want to laugh and cry in the space of a thirty minute set, but Dan’s one of them. That’s why he has such a special place in my heart. There’s no point in taking yourself overly seriously when you’re a musician. It’s much more enjoyable to watch a man up on stage having fun rather than seeing someone doing everything flawlessly. If you’re in the Swindon area on July 20th, I highly recommend you get tickets to see WSTR performing at Level III. Dan’s the opener that night, too, and I can guarantee he’s going to steal the show once more.

Setlist:

Every Thorn
Midnight Calls
Achilles Friend
The Right Thing
Dashboard Confrontational
I Went To Parts
Fear and Clothing

Hometown heroes A Way With Words are getting used to playing venues bigger than Level III. They’ve appeared at Oxford o2 Academy multiple times, with another visit on the horizon. They’re taking the local area by storm.

This was my second time seeing the four-piece, and they’ve vastly improved since supporting Fort Hope back in October. Frontman Antony Willis oozed confidence he was lacking before. He refused to finish ‘Better That Way’ until the crowd clapped along, building the song to a crescendo in his quest. He then grabbed a random member of the audience during ‘Crowded’ (a boy Dan kindly christened “Noddy” during his set) forcing him to stand and chant their lyrics at everyone watching.

It’s a unique way to get crowd participation, but it was successful. Everyone was paying attention to the local support band, eager to see what they’d do next. Antony admitted, “We’re shit really, so I’m glad that you’ve actually stayed!”, and that statement was impossible to agree with.

New track ‘Mr. Anger’ – the title track of their recently released EP – is radio-ready, reminiscent of Red Hot Chili Peppers. ‘Mariana’ also shows a new direction in their sound. The piano intro and slower tempo are unusual choices but they work, especially in contrast with the rifftastic songs that filled the rest of their set. The band are trying new things and stepping out of their comfort zone, and they’re standing out in the best way.

Closer ‘Paper Thin’ is a highlight. The “waiting for your opportunity” chant echoed by everyone in the room was spine-tingling. It points towards big things to come: they’re going to put Swindon on the musical map.

Setlist:

Better That Way
Crowded
Reflections
Over The Top
Somewhere
Mr. Anger
Mariana
Paper Thin

Casey are the next big thing. Playing Slam Dunk, Download and Reading and Leeds festivals over the coming months, they’ve recently been shortlisted for the ‘Best Breakthrough Band’ category at the Heavy Music Awards 2017. Since their debut album, ‘Love Is Not Enough’, was released back in September, the Welsh quintet have toured ceaselessly. It’s safe to say that they deserve the attention that they’re getting.

That being said, they aren’t my cup of tea. Compared to Heartwork’s acoustic set and A Way With Words pure pop-punk, Casey’s brand of melodic hardcore made them the heaviest – and least palpable – band on the bill. From the beginning of ‘Bloom’, vocalist Tom Weaver was yelling into the microphone, exorcising his emotional demons in an indecipherable roar echoed back by adoring fans. It seemed a large chunk of the crowd were primarily in attendance for Casey: the amount of people wearing their merch and screaming their lyrics was astounding.

There’s too much variation between their songs for me to be able to understand the appeal. ‘Bloom’ is brutal, while ‘Teeth’ and ‘Darling’ are dreary. ‘Fade’ mixes the styles brilliantly, showcasing Tom’s yelling vocal and emotive spoken word performance. It works within the song but struggles between tracks. Closer ‘Hell’ was the most cohesive song they played, perfect for a live environment. I enjoyed it more than any of the other songs in their set.

The fans themselves seemed confused by the blend at points: at the end of ‘Teeth’ Tom joked, “That’s the first time outside of Poland that we’ve had anyone try to mosh for that song!”. Tom knew the crowd were going to have a mixed response: he took the time to thank everyone for watching their set, saying, “We appreciate that we may not be the band you’ve come to see this evening. Most of you have probably come to see pop-punk, so for that we are sorry, but we appreciate you giving us your time”. Despite their rise he’s staying humble, which makes me wish I could like their music more. They seem like genuinely nice guys who deserve to have success.

If you’re a fan of La Dispute or Basement, you’ll love Casey. It’s a shame they’re not the band for me.

Setlist:

Bloom
Fade
Teeth
Darling
Little Bird
Passion Flowers
Hell

Boston Manor are following in the footsteps of Moose Blood and Neck Deep, making waves in America while still being underappreciated in their home country. Appearing on the Vans Warped Tour all summer long is going to get them the best kind of attention: just look at how huge those other names are now. You’ll never Boston Manor in a venue this small again.

Boston Manor fans are passionate, to say the least. People had travelled from across the country to be able to see them in this intimate environment, filling Level III to bursting and selling out the show. As soon as their set started the crowd surged to the front to get closer to vocalist Henry Cox. Yelling every word back at him, they showed their love in the most energetic of ways.

Despite the fact that this was a midweek show, people were dancing with abandon, throwing themselves into the moshpit and crowdsurfing at every possible opportunity. I haven’t seen such a furious reaction to a Swindon show since Gnarwolves destroyed the same venue last summer (another show organised by the indomitable Sheer Music, the promoter bringing in all of these big names!).

This was my first time seeing Boston Manor. I attempted to catch their set at Slam Dunk last year, but they had such a huge crowd that the room was filled to capacity before I could get there. It’s not surprising when you hear how brilliant they sound live. Yes, they play pop-punk. Yes, it’s generic pop-punk, but they stand out in the genre thanks to how enthusiastic they are. Henry didn’t stop moving for the entirety of their set, a lively blur dripping with sweat from racing backwards and forwards across the stage.

As well as Casey, Boston Manor are also appearing at Download and Reading and Leeds festivals in the summer. If you’re going, you need to catch their set. Their music’s good but their energy is faultless: it’s impossible not to bounce along and forget your worries while watching them own the stage.

Setlist:

Burn You Up
Lead Feet
Shade
Cu
Gone
Kill Your Conscience
Broken Glass
Stop Trying, Be Nothing
Driftwood
Fossa
Trapped Nerve
Laika

Lastly, I need to say a huge thank you to Kieran Moore of Sheer Music for allowing me to be involved in the promotion of this show. Kieran is revitalising Swindon, and I’m so grateful for everything that he does. I’ll be shining a spotlight on the WSTR show that I mentioned earlier at some point next week. Make sure to come back and check that out, because you won’t be able to resist buying tickets!