With any review you read of Tampa Bay’s Merchandise, it’s now become obligatory to try and define them. However, as many have come to realise, this is a band that cannot be categorised into a particular genre. I myself am not about to buck that trend. But that in itself is the magic of Merchandise. You can’t simply just pigeon hole them next to shoegazing/alt-rock/electro-pop/whatever. This is a band that keeps reinventing themselves. Challenging themselves. And by doing so, this is what gives this band their dynamic edge. From their first EP back in 2010, the feedback frenzied ‘(Strange songs) In The Dark‘, to the ambitious ‘Totale Nite‘, here is a band not ready to conform. For this reason, we should be thankful.
Enigmatic frontman Carson Cox is the man that is central to the Merchandise masterpiece, though that is not to say that Dave Vassalotti, who co-writes many of the songs, and bassist Patrick Brady are not critical to the bands ethos. However, Cox is the one who holds all the cards, and from the moment he steps foot on stage, you soon realise why.
I came to discover Merchandise from their 2012 LP ‘Children of Desire’ and I instantly knew I had found a band that could break from tradition. Not conform to the zeitgeist. This shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, however. What Merchandise do is make you bring an invested commitment, and this is what makes them stand out from the rest. In today’s modern music of ‘now’ and instant hits, it’s easy to forget that music is an art, and something that must be appreciated. Merchandise create music that requires an investment. But once you’re in, you wondered how you had managed without.
Tonight’s setting is The Castle – The intimate venue in Manchester’s northern quarter being the perfect setting to showcase classics tunes and new songs from their impressive new album ‘A Corpse Wired For Sound’. Stripped back to the original three (a four-piece whilst touring), recorded over two cities between Cox and Vassalotti, the new album is their second released on legendary label 4ad. This is a band that is clearly part of the fabric and aesthetic of the label. You just have to look at some of its past and current artists.
The band starts after a slight delay to proceedings following some technical hitches – which the band has to attend to and resolve. A timely reminder that this is clearly a band that is not in this for fame or fortune, but a band that clearly have a passion for what they do. A full European tour which doesn’t let up shows their commitment to their fans, regardless of size.
‘Lonesome Sound‘ kicks off the sold out show, and from that moment you sense that tonight’s show will be enjoyed by all. For a band to travel as far as they have, to visit a sweaty pub in Manchester, clearly shows affection for their craft. Churning out songs new and old, the setlist is filled with an eclectic mix from all of their previous records and their new release. Highlights include ‘Little Killer’ and ‘Flower of Sex’. Just to witness Dave Vassalotti playing his guitar in the most animated of ways is worthy of the ticket fee alone.
After some banter from Carson to the crowd, the set flashes by almost too quick, but the band clearly know that the fans want more. Finishing off to rapturous applause, the band signals the end of the show with the last song and fan favourite ‘Time‘. Fans clearly don’t want this one to end. Cries of requested songs to which Carson politely declines, even if he gives a wry smile to suggest he is either honoured or dumbfounded of the knowledge of the fans of their back catalogue, just shows how much this gig has been enjoyed by all. The sobering reactions of Cox show how much they appreciate just being able to showcase their music. To travel from Tampa Bay to Manchester (via Europe) to play to no more than 60 people shows how much this means to them, and as if it were unwritten, the fans give back that appreciation in abundance.
Having seen them on a previous tour in Manchester, I noticed that something was considerably different from that last show. A smaller venue may have helped (they were at The Deaf Institute last time round), but it was the fact that I sense this band are just starting to gather momentum in their musical prowess, and maybe they are starting to realise they might just have something special in the making.
To say this band are five albums in could suggest they have never quite hit the heights, or have peaked. All of the above are not applicable (yet). They clearly have a core fan base in Europe and are admired by many music journalists alike. To say this band is considered a cult band would be to suggest they have found their niche and settled. For me personally, they are just getting started.