WORDS AND IMAGES PAUL EVANS
As I’m driving across the wild, bleak moors on the long journey to the Trades Club in the glorious and quirky town of Hebden Bridge I’m blasting out the music of tonight’s headliner, Ist, Ist. Atmospherically dark, the bands sound is mirrored in the dark Victorian archways and rundown backstreets of Manchester and since I first heard them Adam Houghton (vocals, guitar), Mat Peters (guitar, synth), Andy Keating (bass) and Joel Kay (drums) have always been at their most powerful live. With next years headliner at Manchester’s Ritz and the release of the band’s new album ‘Protagonists’, out 31 march they’re on the cusp of something big. Tonight, however they are going back to their roots for a sold-out gig at the small and intimate 200 capacity, socialist members cooperative Trades Club.
Built in 1924 the Trades Club is an absolute gem of a venue and has an interior that reeks of history. With its ornate wooden staircases, inscribed plaques and wooden floors, I’m guessing it hasn’t changed since it was built. When I arrive and set up at the front of the low stage it’s already very busy and looking around the packed room it’s not going to be easy to photograph, but when a band of Ist Ists quality decide to play an intimate gig I’m just glad I’m here.
There are a few quick blasts from the smoke machine, the sounds of The Pixies, Joy Division, Sonic Youth and The Smiths fade from the PA and we’re straight into the lead single ‘Stamp you out’ from the bands upcoming third album. It’s a stunning wake-up call of controlled raw energy. Pounding drums and bass, blistering guitar and Adam’s repeating baritone vocals all accelerating the song to its thrilling close. The vigorous bassline and drums of the dark “Jennifer’s Lips” continue the pace. Adam intensely expelling out the great lyric “Jennifer’s Lips are full of venom, and it’s heaven”. I look around and with no space to move, the crowd are only able to enthusiastically rock and clap in rhythm.
The tempo continues with the mellower, yet sinister ‘Watching You Watching Me’. Mesmerized, the crowd increase their rhythm in time with the flawless metronomic drumming and during “Fat Cats Drown in Milk” Adam’s dark melancholic vocal line “Do you love me anymore?” is perfect in the blue lights. The immense and heartening “Middle Distance” and ‘A New Love Song’ slow the pace right down. The former slowly squirming and building immersed in Andy’s stunning bassline. Adam’s voice, uncompromising, dominating and meaningful in the latter. I’m certain lots of thought has gone into tonight’s setlist and it shows, the band are masters of them. The constant variation in tempos keeping the sardine-like audience both frantically nodding and transfixed in equal measure.
As the bass introduction to fan favourite ‘Emily’ begins, the crowd are in full movement, hands in the air swaying, clapping the rhythm and singing the intro, continuing to sing ‘Emily’s’ melody back to the band after the song has finished. Mat effortlessly converts from keyboardist to guitarist throughout the set and I feel Andy’s exceptional, menacing bass in my stomach as it resonates around the small room as he wields the Fender around the stage.
I’m not prepared for what happens next. “Mary in the Black and White Room”, a song I’ve not heard is announced as the bands next single and as the melodic bass and yearning chorus thunders off the walls I have tears in my eyes. I’ve been listening to music for over 50 years and there’s been very, very few songs that have had this effect on me. You must hear it for yourselves when it’s released. The audience begin moving more and more as ‘It Stops Where It Starts’ increases the tempo before “Trapdoors” has the fans smiling and bouncing in the darkness before it closes the set to rapturous applause.
The foursome return to the dark stage for their much-deserved encores, ‘Wolves’ from 2020s ‘Architecture’ album and “Extreme Greed” from 2021s ‘Art of Lying’. ‘Wolves’ is atmospheric and dark, its slow shuddering keyboards, deep vocals, rumbling bass and optimistic guitar all punctuated with pulsating strobe lighting. The audience are again transfixed in the darkness and I make the hard decision of getting on the road for the long journey home before the slow, shuffling, subtle drumming and the machine gun bass of ‘Extreme Greed’ has even begun.
I hear news after I leave of some mindless pushing and shoving in the crowd during the encores and the set is sadly cut short. A sad end to a spectacular night and very sad for a band who have worked tirelessly for years to produce exquisite music and toured relentlessly. A band who are quite the opposite of inciting chaos in the crowd. Ignoring the mindless minority, it’s been a simply magnificent night of evocative, resplendent music and at each gig the band play they just keep getting better and better.
Ist Ist have always needed and deserved that bigger stage and with next years headliner at Manchester’s Ritz on March 31st they’re nearly there. Over the last few years they’ve developed into one of the best bands around and certainly the best band in Manchester which is something they truly deserve. It’s crossed my mind before that this is how Joy Division might have sounded on their third unrecorded album. I drive back over the fog laden moors with “Mary in the Black and White Room” bouncing in my head knowing I haven’t changed my opinion. Do yourself a favour, buy their music and see them live. Stunning.
1/ Stamp You Out
2/ Jennifer’s Lips
3/ Watching You Watching Me
4/ All Downhill
5/ Fat Cats Drown in Milk
6/ Middle Distance
7/ Something Has To Give
8/ A New Love Song
10/ The Waves
12/ Heads on Spikes
13/ Mary in the Black and White Room
14/ Fool’s Paradise
15/ It Stops Where It Starts
16/ Nothing More Nothing Less
19/ Extreme Greed
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I’ve loved music since forever. Graphic designer, photographer and artist at painted.papillon.smile (www.ppsdesign.co.uk)