XFM’s Winter Wonderland - Manchester Academy 1

XFM is something of a big deal around these parts, but not as big as in London. Therefore, it seems when it comes to the annual ‘office party’, Winter Wonderland, Manchester usually draws the short straw (last year they had Julian Casabalncas, we got Miles Kane). The sold-out Manchester Academy show billing read like an education in indie; from the obscure new-comers to the industry darlings. It wasn’t a night for the hardcore musos; the tequila sponsorship would be enough to make any purist squirm, but that wasn’t the point. Ditched was the usual bland inter-act elevator music, in favour of XFM DJ sets, which received almost as good a reception as the bands themselves.

First up were Everything Everything, a band with the weight of reinventing the Manchester music scene, and a pink feather boa, resting squarely upon their shoulders. It seems they managed to convince a potentially tough of their worth within four songs, with their U-turn key changes, lyrical outpours at unfathomable speeds and the rollercoaster vocals of an adolescent boy whose voice is breaking.

Back from the brink of obscurity, The View returned with new single Sunday, bringing a touch of rock and roll to the proceedings. Think a shirtless drummer and mosh pits. Burning as bright as ever, their signature chant “The View, The View, The View are on fire” rippled around the audience, proving they never really left.

Mystery Jets were one of the most anticipated acts of the night, and it was a definite mistake for them to be on so early. The four song set was disappointingly short, opening with perfect declarations of passion Alice Springs and fairytale title-track Serotonin from their recent album followed by crowd favourite Two Doors Down, and closed by heartbreaker Flakes, which prompted a few lighter-in-the-air moments.

With a Christmas single due for release any day now, you’d assume The Futureheads would probably play it at winter-themed event. You’d be wrong. The boys rolled out all the oldies, alongside ‘Heartbeat Song’ and ‘Sun Goes Down’ from current album The Chaos. Top marks for audience participation though, The Futureheads Game involved the crowd splitting in two and singing the acapella parts for Hounds Of Love. Innovative, but disturbingly reminiscent of grim Saturday night family entertainment at Butlins. Also ironic, considering the split audience. In the one corner there were the drunken landfill indie fans, most likely to be chanting “The View are on fire”, in the other, stood the students in Joy Divison T- Shirts saying things like “I only listen to XFM because you need DAB radio to listen to Radio 6”. You know where you stand.

As if to somehow counter the cockiness their predecessors, Bombay Bicycle Club took to the stage with the un-swaggering awkwardness of a band that write beautiful songs and were there to play good music. Critical acclaim and a successful second album didn’t prevent anti-frontman Jack Steadman’s usual ‘deer in the headlights’ expression. Enchanting and thrilling in equal measure, they played songs from their debut, and recent acoustic album Flaws.

So team ‘Radio 6’ had a band. Cue The Wombats. But the world has moved on since 2008 I hear you cry. No worries, so have The Wombats. They’ve bought a synth. Unsurprisingly, Let’s Dance To Joy Division received a rapturous response, as did Tokyo Vampires & Wolves, the first single from their new album, but there was something missing. They didn’t seem as relevant or as exciting as they did two years ago, and the people leaving early seemed to agree. Confetti and inflatable balls descended on the crowd, a distraction from the technical difficulties (must be that new synth) and painful stage banter “This is what we call a Wombalad”, “Have you heard the joke about the bin?” Rubbish. If we’d wanted a pantomime act we’d have stopped at The Palace Theatre on the way.

Dear London, throw your preconceptions out of the window, and get your hands on some Winter Wonderland tickets, it’ll be a blast, but you always get the better line-up anyway.

Words: Lucy Holt
Photos: Shirlaine Forrest www.shirlainephotos.co.uk

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