Liam Frost at Band on the Wall
Last week I was lucky enough to go and see Liam Frost, one of my favourite singers, play with a full band. I’ve only ever seen him play acoustic sets before, which are great because he really strips the songs down to their bones (vocals, guitar and harmonica). However, the music on his albums has a much bigger feel, with some being orchestral in the depth of their sound. So on Bank Holiday Sunday I braved Manchester’s Band on the Wall for some beefed-up folk music.
The recently refurbished Band on the Wall is a venue of considerable style, with trendy furnishings, bars, video screens, a shiny new logo and aloof young staff members, but this is all. The venue seriously lacks substance, with distinctly average acoustics, poor sound management and terrible organisation.
Not only this, but the Mancunian crowd have clearly been drinking for some time by the point Frost gets onstage, and are, as drunken Mancunians tend to be, rude and obnoxious. They push and shove, shout, spill drinks and generally behave like naughty children.
It is a testament to Liam Frost’s talent that he overcomes all of this to play a set that is in equal parts melancholy, joyous, chaotic and beautiful. Above the din of technical faults and shouting scallies, Frost’s pure voice rises and falls, and slowly he begins the mammoth task of winning over the hostile audience.
Heavier versions of album tracks, with pounding drums and expertly wielded guitars, make a bold statement, sounding as though the tracks were tailored to tonight’s rowdiness. Shall We Dance takes on a new mood, becoming a song for singing and dancing to. Sparks also soars, with precise harmonies, bluesy drumming and revitalised keyboard accompaniment meaning that established Frost fans are treated to revamped versions of favourites.
Younger Boys and Older Girls takes the attention caught in the previous, faster tracks and manipulates the mood subtly, with a slower, sadder sound. Clear as glass harmonies and poignant lyrics are offered up to the warm night, and the crowd are soothed and appreciative. As Frost howls “Easy love was a nasty habit I never could quite kick” in “Good Things Are Coming Our Way”, there is a palpable pricking of ears. These are words that resonate with us all, using realism, humour and an ear for a poetic gem to create songs that manage to be personal for every single person in the room, without losing anything to pop blandness.
Shall We Dance ensures all of the venue’s attention is on him, with bold, loud guitars and tuneful hollering wails. Expertly combining new and old tracks, Frost smashes out “Your Hand In Mine”, revised to be poppier than ever, and getting the crowd singing and dancing.
This isn’t a popularity contest though, and Frost sends the band away as he plays some songs in his downbeat, acoustic signature style. Is This Love and Skylark Avenue are deal breakers. If these tracks capture a stranger, they will be fans by the end of the night. The intro to Skylark Avenue is lost in the din from the rabble, but this is poignant. This is a song for the few. Skylark Avenue isn’t a song for those who like their music flavourless and indie-bland, because it is hard to tap into the haunting negativity Frost is reminiscing on and take away something positive. If you can, however, the rewards are rich.
Frost and the band close the set with “The Mourners of St Paul’s”, a song from the first record. It may seem like a strange choice at first, but it perfectly sums up what Frost is about. Starting slowly, the melancholy, delicate music tells of Frost’s troubled past with a frankness that is instantly endearing. Once the ballsy second half kicks in, however, the crowd are uplifted with the music, and the room is filled with joyous energy that bounces back and forth between the stage and crowd.
Many, many thanks to Fiona MacSweeney for coming and taking pictures, despite this really not being her scene!
finally, here's my magazine, which has an interview, another live review and an album review of Liam Frost. He's also on the cover, but I didn't take the image.