Feeder + The Virginmarys + Dakota Beats @ Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – Wednesday 21st November 2012

Review and Photos by Paul Broome

And so it is I head out into the cold and head-first into the beginnings of another crazy Winter gig season, and having a rich triple-header like this on at one of my favourite venues is one way to ensure I won’t moan too much about having to drag my tired old bones out the door…

For one reason or another it’s been about six months since I last saw local boys Dakota Beats, and tonight they make the gargantuan leap from the cramped Slade Rooms stage to the cavernous Civic Hall with aplomb. Their songs have just the right amount of ‘epic’ to them to justify the new settings, and their stage craft is also improving to suit. To be fair they’ve always had that air of self-belief that seems to be on the verge of tipping over into cockiness – singer Daniel especially – but they manage to walk the right side of that dangerous line, and get a good response from the night’s early arrivals. They suffer a little from a murky sound mix (the curse of the ‘local support’) which seems to get worse toward the end of the set – a lot of the harmonies and subtleties from what should be a storming closer ‘The Tides’ are unfortunately lost – but if they keep turning in performances like this, then their star will only continue to ascend.

The Virginmarys on the other hand, have no such sound problems – a benefit, I guess, to both being part of the tour and having just three members to sound-check. Now this is where I have to try to pretend to not be a fan boy, and give a level-headed appraisal of the band’s performance. But that’s not going to happen, be it in the studio or on stage, The Virginmarys are a fucking awesome band – heads will never be level when they’re around – and tonight they are as awesome as they always are. Look around the crowd and you can recognise the people who are discovering them for the first time – they are the ones with the wide-assed grins who aren’t singing along, as they don’t know the words yet. The seasoned fans, like me, are the ones with the wide-assed grins who are singing along – and the crowd is pretty much comprised of one or the other.

You can’t help but be carried along by their infectious and committed delivery, the immediacy of the intense drumming, addictive riffs, and screamed vocals. The old favourites – the likes of ‘Just A Ride’, ‘Bang Bang Bang’, ‘Out Of Mind’ – sound as great as ever, and the new material (such as recent single ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’) bode well for the debut album (King Of Conflict – preorder it now!). It’s good to see them getting high profile support slots like this, as these lads from Macclesfield really should be bigger than The Black Keys – they have better songs and charisma for starters. 2013 should finally be their year.

Of course the challenge facing any rising band, once their star has ascended, is to maintain both their stature and their passion – and you couldn’t get much of a better example of this than tonight’s headliners, Feeder. While a lot of their peers have either disbanded or been forced into playing more intimate venues, their fan-base has continued to grow – and judging by the number of teenagers out tonight they continue to attract new blood to the brood. Although, once the guys hit the stage and start tearing through the set list, it’s not hard to see why. They don’t have to resort to shoving a couple of hit singles toward the end of the night as they have ‘hits’ coming out of their ears, so they can spread them liberally throughout the set (the likes of ‘Buck Rogers’, ‘Just the Way I’m Feeling’, ‘Pushing the Senses’ and ‘Feeling a Moment’ all come early on or mid-way through the set). But, surprisingly, some of the biggest cheers of the night come when Grant Nicholas is introducing tracks from the new album Generation Freakshow.

The new material has certainly captured the affections of the young audience, and it seems as though Feeder have almost entered a kind of second-era. I will freely admit to not being particularly taken by the band’s last couple of albums (prior to Generation Freakshow), it almost seemed to me that they were ambling on a plateau, rather than striving out for new heights. But there’s a new found freshness to the songs, a new passion to the performance, and – most tellingly – an abundance of happy smiles from both Grant and Taka on display tonight (even songs that I’m not particularly fond of, like ‘Idaho’, sound great). This sense of delight is echoed by the crowd. A full Civic Hall is always a joy to behold, especially in the midst of winter, and the audience are left completely fulfilled tonight. Amongst them at least one person (that would be me) has had their interest and faith in the band restored and renewed.