Snow Patrol are only one song into their show at the Manchester Evening News Arena, and already, misfortune has befallen post-Britpop pin-up Gary Lightbody, though thankfully not of a particularly serious nature. “I just spent that entire first song with my flies undone,” he quips cheekily, a touch of self-deprecating embarrassment to his tone. “I hope you didn’t notice. If you did, ladies, I hope you enjoyed it.”
It’s a cheeky-chappie line perhaps more accustomed to the Robbie Williams brand of pop than, say, a Northern Irish six-piece whose commercial success is built upon a serious of soaring lovelorn ballads, all weepy lyrics and epic, lush arrangements. But it suits the cheery Lightbody, a man who seems possessed of not. Snow Patrol are touring behind 2011’s Fallen Empires – a stylistic left-turn into indietronica and power pop – and, judging by the near-sold-out crowd packed around the venue, are still the commercial juggernaut who dominated mid-noughties airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic with a cluster of genre-defining hits.
|Snow Patrol perform live on their Fallen Empires Tour|
in 2012. (Courtesy of livedesignonline.com)
No expense has been wasted on their stage show either; five large lighting rigs, shaped like eponymous snowflakes, hang from the rafters in front of a twenty-five-foot high curving LED screen upon which pulsing graphics of water drops periodically flash. Bathed in alternating icy blue, warm yellow and fiery orange, Snow Patrol enter to the shuddering electronic-bass of I’ll Never Let Go, and subsequently waste no time flying through a ninety-minute show in a happy, messy clutter.
Happy, because there’s a deftness of touch to the heavy, ponderous ballads and maximum-drive guitar anthems they populate their setlist with – recent cut New York lifts with a nuanced grace on flashes of lighter piano than on record, whilst the thumping alt-rock punch of Hands Open is rendered with a surprisingly laddish charm. Messy, as the band often lack musical sophistication; Crack the Shutters, for all its anthemics, is disorganised and muddied in its keyboard and guitar lines, both off the beat, though rousing regardless. And cluttered, for there are eleven – count it, eleven – players on stage; Lightbody, guitarists Nathan Connolly and Johnny McDaid, drummer Jonny Quinn, bassist Paul Wilson and keyboard player Tom Simpson are joined by five additional musicians, including two more guitarists and another drummer. It’s very Wall of Sound in principle; in execution, it sounds sometimes as everything and the kitchen sink has been thrown at the audience.
|Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, performing live at Manchester|
Evening News Arena in 2012. (Courtesy of Getty)
The mix isn’t terrible though, just overpoweringly primal in prolonged flashes. In fact, it works to the advantage of some songs; Fallen Empires is rendered as a sensory overload, all tribal rhythms that pound at the eardrums. Take Back the City struts with an urgent defiance, stirring and strident. Lightbody delivers a braveau vocal performance, that peaks with a spine-tingling rendition of their beautiful breakthrough power ballad Run, reclaimed from the hands of talent-show contestants with a hauntingly desperate cry. It’s arguably their strongest song of many; contrary to critical dismissal as a low-budget Coldplay, Snow Patrol have some superb songs in their catalogue and the admiration of fellow musicians such as Michael Stipe and Bono to boot. For relationship duet Set the Fire to the Fire Bar, he silkily harmonises with the backing vocalist over twinkling, star-strewn melodies, whilst the ubiquitous Chasing Cars is dispatched to a mass singalong chorus with the requisite élan.
Others have moments in the spotlight too; Connolly’s spiralling work on Chocolate is a highlight, whilst Wilson propels the melancholy In The End forward on driving bass. They close out their main set with the power-pop-rock of You’re All I Have, before returning for a three song encore that opens with their most serious misstep, the leaden drag of Lifening, an insipid ballad that floats on the album but sinks in the arena. They rescue momentum with panache though; the slow-build surge of Open Your Eyes notches up the tension before bursting into joyous, life-affirming melody. They roll out one final song – the floor-filling electropop of Just Say Yes, their singular dance anthem and party closer originally penned for Gwen Stefani. It’s loud, bubbly and a surprisingly tight performance. Snow Patrol clearly know how to play then; but with a touch of refinement, they could become all-time live greats.