Back in May last year, as I bounced up and down to the ludicrously infectious ‘Cheer Up London’ amongst a sea of people doing the same, I made a prediction. Well, it probably wasn’t right at that moment – maybe on the tram home. Regardless, it became clear to me that evening that the next time Slaves returned to Manchester, it would be at the much larger O2 Ritz across the road. Sure enough, months on from that sweaty evening, they’d sold out the 1500 capacity venue.
Unfortunately, that tour had to be cut short due to an injury to poor old drummer Isaac. Turns out, when you annihilate the kit on the regular, your arm falls off. Or your shoulder dislocates, one of ‘em. Out of the bad came some good though, and this lead to the Kentish duo selling out two nights at The Ritz this past week!
Capitalising on a phenomenal year for the pair – including a peculiarly placed acoustic set on the grass in Piccadilly Gardens during my lunch hour – they set off on a UK Tour early January, with their final shows taking place in Manchester.
I didn’t realise till the evening before that rising Northern quartet Spring King were on the bill. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though, as the four-piece have had a rocket strapped to their collective jaxies for the past twelve months. Speaking with the band before the show, drummer Tarek noted how they like to keep it tight when they’re together on stage. It was the first thing I noticed when I caught them supporting Mac DeMarco last year and tonight’s no exception. These sort of shows are perfect for Spring King, as they’re right up the street of those coming to see Slaves. Scrappy, energetic nuggets of punk gold from a band that look like they’re having a blast on stage. Guitarist Andy rips like a motherfucker too.
They’ve got their own headline tour coming up next month, and it’s highly likely that tonight’s showing has sold a few more tickets. Job done.
The less said about Wonk Unit the better, really. Great salesmen though; the geezers at the merch desk have got a hilarious pitch for shifting their wears, and fair fucks to them – their merch is dead good. The kids were into it too, so they’re clearly not sweating it.
Following a couple of pints of piss, the venue is filled with the deafening sound of the second best Vengaboys song ‘We Like To Party.’ But this ain’t Rotterdam’s biggest export; this is bad boys of Royal Tunbridge Wells Slaves! Their highly anticipated debut album ‘Are You Satisfied?’ quite rightly makes up the majority of the set list, with one of my personal favourites ‘Ninety Nine’ opening the show. The thundering drums and relentless riff set a precedent for the night, with Isaac angrily hurling out the call of the chorus to the ecstatic crowd. It’s quickly followed up by another favourite, the damning ‘Live Like An Animal’ and its hilariously obnoxious shouts of “carcass” that permeate throughout.
The lass next to me is more than keen for it two songs in, near spilling her pint all over some poor lad’s head (and mine…) The crowd is a real mixed bag, with a lot more older folk coming out this time around. It’s still rammed with teenagers, but the balcony is packed out with young and old alike. Whatever the age, the crowd don’t let up for a second.
The best song of the night comes just four tracks deep, in the form of the irresistible ‘Sockets.’ It’s not just the best song of the night; it’s the best song on the album. Fuck it, it’s their best song. It’s been a favourite for a while, and its appearance tonight has me grinning like a lad on the happy stuff. I’d be up for another blast of Sockets, but the duo press on; the crowd in the palm of their hands. Highlights come one after the other, with old favourite ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’ making way for ‘Do Something’, Cheer Up London and a brand new song which sounds really promising.
It’s weird going to a Slaves show and not hearing stuff like ‘Beauty Quest’, ‘Nervous Energy’ and ‘Girl Fight.’ Much like Where’s Your Car Debbie?, they used to be a staple of their live shows – Girl Fight being the hilarious recounting of having a take-away after a night on the tiles and witnessing a rumble between two leathered girls. It’s also a shame; because it makes way for stuff nowhere near as good, like ‘Wow!!! 7AM’, ‘Despair and Traffic’ and ‘Are You Satisfied?’ – The latter seemingly being created for the sole purpose of having a bit of a breather. But fair fucks to ‘em, they need one – the show runs at a rapid pace throughout, with the majority of the set kicking along at a frantic pace.
‘Hey’ is a worthy closer, thundering along with a snarling aggression as guitarist Laurie thrashes away and Isaac screams a warning to the audience. That’s not the end though. Slaves make it back on stage following a brief exit to perform their cover of ‘Shutdown’ by Skepta. I don’t really care for it, but it’s hugely popular following its debut on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge. Kids scream for it at shows, and tonight the duo happily oblige.
There’s stuff creeping into the Slaves repertoire that I’m not massively into, but they’re a changed band. It’s all well and good harking back to the days where you could catch Slaves in front of ten people in the back room of a pub, but things are different now. Tonight, the duo excels in front of the huge crowd, and the majority of the set is fantastic. New track ‘Hypnotised (Fuck No)’ is an absolute stormer and a great sign of things to come. They were everywhere last year, and it looks like 2016 is going to be no different. Next up: America.