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Ra Ra Riot / Airship - The Ruby Lounge Manchester - 18.5.11

Most of our younger readers will have been in primary school when we first came across Airship. Back then they were going under the name Astro Boy (later to be Rowley) and they stuck out like a sore thumb in Manchester's punk scene which they played in. Cute Get Out Kids meets Killers influenced emo pop was the order of the day and in truth they really were one of the best Manchester bands around at the time.

Fastforward to 2011 and the band are fully formed as Airship and a very different proposition. Gone are the cute babyfaced guys we knew and in comes the Manc / Macc beard and fuzzy facial hair and the music reflects that with some off kilter beard rock. But even since Leeds Festival a couple of years ago where they played the Dance To The Radio stage to open up the festival their sound has changed from accessible singalong choruses to something more challenging. The band themselves say that people need to listen to the album as a whole body of work, but in the live setting where much of the material is new to most people it often requires that instant fix. We still get that to a certain extent with next single "Kids", but is that enough as part of a 30 minute set.

Time will tell for Airship once the album comes out. And don't get us wrong, they will be huge in Europe where they've spend time touring recently. But we want some of the massive tunes back they used to write.

Ra Ra Riot write massive tunes. That they're playing to maybe 100 people at Ruby Lounge instead of filling out theatre's is nothing short of a tragedy. With 2 albums behind them, 2008's "The Rhumb Line" and last years "The Orchard", the band play what is a greatest hits set of songs that never were greatest hits, but loved favourites. Orchestral pop music that sits snugly between Belle & Sebastian, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire, but 100% their own, they share the light and dark, the lyrics are a mix of joy and heartbreak, love and hate.

On record they convey a dark lyricism on a bed of beautiful pop (in such a way that only Orlando have done previously), that they name one of their upbeat songs "Dying Is Fine" shows just how uncompromising they are. "Can You Tell" is one of those rare unrequited love songs that speak directly while being poetic.

Live they rarely veer from the perfection of the record, but while couples and groups of friends come to the gig together, as soon as Ra Ra Riot hit the stage they're transported back to lying on a bed with headphones on and nobody else matters,

If you listen to one band this year, in fact next year or the year after for that matter, make it Ra Ra Riot. Unmissable on record and unmissable live and we hope they come back to the UK soon

Alex McCann



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