WORDS AND IMAGES PAUL EVANS
Ceremonial and atmospheric, the sound of IST IST is echoed by Manchester’s’ shadowy 19th Century arches, modern sparsely lit office buildings and tumble-down 1980s back streets. Their songs evoke despair, desire and conjure up a plethora of bittersweet, broken images, yet are still rousing enough to bring warmth to a cold winters’ night. The band are flawless live and tonight’s first headline gig at the 1,500 capacity Ritz really has been as inevitable as rain on Whitworth Street. It’s also the launch night of stunning third album “Protagonists” and looking at tonight’s setlist it could already be my gig of year.
The controlled raw energy of opener “Stamp You Out” the first single from “Protagonists”, is an exquisite announcement of intent. Its stabbing, one note bass riff giving way to Adam’s repeated baritone lyric before accelerating the song to its electrifying close, the band backlit by electric white strobes. I look around and with no space to move, the crowd are only able to eagerly rock and clap in rhythm as Adam intensely spits out the words “Jennifer’s Lips are full of venom” in time with the forceful bassline of second song the shadowy “Jennifer’s Lips” Some of the crowd have eyes closed mouthing along, some have arms in the air clapping, some just stand and stare.
The Ist Ist faithful shuffle to the understated, machine gun bassline, ethereal guitar and dark menacing vocals of the sinister “Watching You Watching Me” Cold 80’s synths and the filthiest bass sound I’ve ever heard rumble off the walls during “Discipline” a sure-fire contender for the next Stranger Things soundtrack. “It Stops Where It Starts” is both apocalyptic and a subtle slap around the face. “Fool’s Paradise” and “Heads on Spikes” are threatening, the audience moving closer together and in full movement, hands in the air swaying to the band’s iconic back catalogue.
I can hardly tear my eyes away from the band. Mat effortlessly converts from keyboardist to guitarist throughout and provides measured, aching keyboards. Andy, always dressed from head to toe in black, is either a statue or wields his bass across the floor as he plays against the backlit stage. Joel’s drumming throbs like a metronomic life-support machine and Adam’s deep, dark baritone vocals are unyielding and haunting.
As always with IST IST, it’s a blinding setlist. The latest keyboard drenched and dare I say it more accessible “Protagonists” tracks effortlessly becoming yet more iconic fan favourites. Choosing a favourite song tonight is now becoming increasingly difficult so I give up. I really do have a tear in my eye during “Nothing More Nothing Less” and “Mary in the Black and White Room” though. Both are subdued, yet still dark, mysterious and epic. Andy’s bass is more muted and Mat’s synth lines more prominent, but they still rattle my inner soul. The perpetual variation in tempos is keeping the packed crowd both frantically nodding, arms raised in the air and transfixed in equal measure. The band are not known for lots of stage banter but are exceptionally appreciative Andy letting the crowd know at several points in the set.
IST IST are a true DIY band, their “The Art of Lying” album reaching number 87 in the UK Top 100 on their own label Violence Records which is phenomenal. They have a loyal burgeoning fanbase and in the past there would be a sea of Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures” t-shirts in the audience. Tonight, IST IST t-shirts are the new norm. A sure sign of excellent times to come for the band and deservedly so.
As the bass introduction to long term live anthem “Emily” begins, the crowd clap the soft gentle rhythm, swaying along. Adam’s desperate, menacing vocals weaving between the bass notes perfectly. I’m transfixed in the darkness. The unashamedly atmospheric and slow throbbing keyboards, deep vocals, rumbling bass and optimistic guitar of “Extreme Greed” slowly snakes and twists accentuated by outstanding, pulsating strobe lighting. “You’re Mineprecedes” last song “Slowly We Escape” and picks up the tempo again. I can feel the anticipation in the audience as they know the song will deviate to its yearning chorus and frantic climax. “Slowly We Escape” begins with its slow, deliberate keyboards before roaring into its brutal, thunderous wave of impassioned emotion.
IST IST have always been absorbing performers, but there’s something extra special about tonight. It’s chilling, powerful and epic. The quality of each song stands out, there’s not a weak one in the set. New songs from the outstanding ‘Protagonists’ album seamlessly work with older songs and the band are simply exceptional. I wasn’t wrong, it’s going to take some performance to beat this as gig of the year. In fact, not only are IST IST the best band in Manchester now, but they’re also the best Manchester band I’ve seen since Puressence in the mid-90s and the Stone Roses in the late 80s. Do yourself a favour. Have a listen, buy an album, t-shirt or gig ticket and make sure IST IST can continue doing what they do. Simply outstanding.
IST IST are:-
Adam Houghton (Guitar and vocals)
Andy Keating (Bass)
Mat Peters (Guitar and synth)
Joel Kay (Drums).
1/ Stamp You Out
2/ Jennifer’s Lips
3/ Fat Cats Drown in Milk
4/ Watching You Watching Me
5/ All Downhill
7/ Mary in the Black and White Room
8/ A New Love Song
9/ It Stops Where It Starts
10/ Something Has to Give
11/ Fool’s Paradise
12/ The Waves
13/ Heads on Spikes
15/ Nothing More Nothing Less
18/ Extreme Greed
19/ You’re Mine
20/ Slowly We Escape
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I’ve loved music since forever. Graphic designer, photographer and artist at painted.papillon.smile (www.ppsdesign.co.uk)