Manchester’s Albert Hall is a truly spectacular building. A former Wesleyan Church; the stained glass windows, high ceiling, and organ pipes all lend themselves to a quirky atmosphere-one that the city’s music hipsters will truly love. On top of this, the venues openness provides some truly fantastic acoustics.
In essence, this is the sort of venue that you feel was made especially for an American Football show. The hipsters’ favourite math-rock pedlars would be hard-pushed to find a better venue to showcase their intricate music.
Before the headliners hit the stage, however, there’s an opening set from Owen. Mike Kinsella will be a busy man this evening-Owen being the American Football frontman’s folk-tinged indie side-project.
Armed with nothing but an electric guitar, microphone, and a wooden chair, Kinsella takes to the stage with an unassuming swagger. Due to the involved storytelling of these songs, the set comprises of 8 tracks from across the project’s fairly extensive back catalogue. The looped effects usually associated with Owen are absent in the live setting, allowing for a more stripped-down, yet intimate sound.
While simplistic, this set does showcase just how talented a musician Mike Kinsella is. Shredding intricate guitar licks with the greatest of ease, and singing melancholic lyrics with a vocal delivery, as crisp and engaging as it is on the records. “The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi” is a particular highlight.
Following a thorough introduction to the work of Mike Kinsella, it’s soon time for the main event. Making an understated entrance to the stage, the band get straight into things, with “Where Are We Now?”-the opener to 2016’s self-titled record.
The complex, shimmering soundscape resonates as clear, beautiful and haunting as it does on record. It’s immediately clear-whether because of the band’s talent, the venue’s acoustics, or a combination of the two-that this gig will be something special.
Having started proceedings with a new track, the band dive straight into the deep cuts from their 1999 record of (confusingly) the same name. Running through “You know I Should Be Leaving Soon” “Honestly” and “The Summer Ends”, American Football delivers the post-rock infused emo favourites almost exactly as they sound on record. For a band who play such complicated, mathy rock music, this is far from a criticism.
What is also intriguing, is the way Kinsella alters the tone of his voice for these older tracks; invoking the fragility and angst of the first record. 18 years of performing has honed his vocal skills, leaving him with a deeper more confident croon. While this is welcome on the newer material, it would be entirely inappropriate for the older songs.
Following this trip down emo memory lane, the band break out two new tracks-“Born to Lose” and “Give Me the Gun”. Both further showcase Kinsella’s improved vocal delivery, and the band’s new found ability to write more immediate traditional indie-rock songs. It also provides the welcome revelation that the new tracks slot into the live set so seamlessly alongside the classics. The crowd reaction to the more recent music suggests that in 18 years, the band’s latest record will be loved just as much as its predecessor.
When a band has as talented a frontman as Mike Kinsella, it’s easy to forget that American Football features three other supremely talented musicians. Live, however, it’s clear just what each member brings to the table.
Steve Holmes’ noodly guitar work provides the perfect partner to Kinsella’s equally complex strumming, while the relatively recent addition of Nate Kinsella on bass provides an added depth and further texture; offering so much more than your everyday bassist. Holding everything together is Steve Lamos, whose expert drumming keeps everything ticking over nicely, and guides the rest of the band through the unusual changes in time signature.
Lamos duly performs trumpet duty on “The Summer Ends” and “For Sure”-it just wouldn’t be an American Football show with out it! As with the entirety of the show, the trumpet is as clear and in tune as it is on the record.
Closing with the hauntingly beautiful “Home Is Where the Haunt Is” and everyone’s favourite math-rock song “Never Meant”, the band bring an end to a truly triumphant show. The crowd know that they’ve attended a truly special gig, and undoubtedly leave in hope that it won’t be 17 years until the next record, and tour.