It’s kinda hard not to read tonight as a tentative ‘nature is healing’ of sorts. It may not exactly be Fresher’s Week here at Leeds Beckett University, but the Union is crawling with students all revelling in being given the option to congregate in-person en mass ahead of a new university year. To dress up, drink booze, dance together under low-lights body-to-body drenched in sweat, and scream along to Two Door Cinema Club over the between-band intercom. It is very clear that everybody in the room tonight has missed this, and a little pre-entrance hitch from a few patrons who evidently have forgotten the need to whip up a COVID pass before being granted access by the justifiably stringent security is considered a small price to pay for an evening of mostly mask-less revelry like in the Before Times.
Although such concerts have been back for a hot minute, I get the impression that tonight marks the first time a lot of the crowd have been to a gig since before COVID decimated modern life, an observation based upon just how many ecstatic cheers greet the roadies doing sound checks before the opener. Whilst I popped my cherry last month at Gorillaz in London, and despite both the lingering trauma of 18 months spent in paralysed fear and the knowledge that COVID is not over weighing on me as one of the seemingly very few masked folks in the room, I get it. As someone who was basically living gig-to-gig until the stupid apocalypse took that away from them, I have missed live music so fucking much. The communion, the energy, the pageantry, the release when That One Song hits the line which you connect to on such a deep fundamental level that screaming it in a room full of strangers is akin to a detoxifying exorcism, the mosh pits, the post-show tinnitus…
Despite my better judgement, I can’t help but feel relieved by tonight happening. This signal that maybe we’re near the light at the end of the tunnel (even though the mounds of evidence indicate we’re absolutely not) bathes the entire show in a celebratory glow and makes all of the most mundane unheralded aspects of a gig still worthy of note and appreciation.
For example, politely waiting through a decent but not especial opening act and sizing up whether they’ll manage to make a big leagues jump someday. Mac Wetha is a part of NINE8, the genre-omnivorous London collective whose self-released NO SMOKE mixtapes have been building quite the buzz in British press circles over the past year and a bit, but he’s also struck out on his own with the Dirty Hit-released EP Make It Through this past June. Much like many other members of the Dirty Hit roster, Mac’s solo music is unashamedly indebted to past musical trends and particularly the music of his youth. Here that means the various kinds of mid-00s/early-10s British indie that Vice might, with maximum smugness, derisively tag as ‘landfill.’ “REM,” in the forward-charging drum shuffle and extremely laboured deep-slurring vocal affectations, brings up the days of Dogs and The Rifles; “Wayside” has the slightly tropical vibey guitar licks of Peace mixed with the bedroom pop aesthetics of Gus Dapperton; and the closing thrash resembles more that second Circa Waves album which tried to be dark and mature than anything else.
Stripped of all the vocal manipulation effects and taking up a traditional four-man band set-up sans playback for the various production flourishes on the recorded versions, Mac’s songs reveal themselves to be simple affairs currently lacking much of an identity beyond hitting shuffle on a 2013 uni fresher’s iPod library. They’re very student-y, for lack of a better term, perhaps best epitomised by he and the band busting out a Weezer cover (“Say It Ain’t So”) at the set’s halfway mark. In fairness, this pandering goes down gangbusters to the assembled throng; arms sway aloft to the slower songs, yells of appreciation greet anything which even remotely resembles a tasty guitar lick, and a few tiny pockets of jumpers manifest on occasion. Mac Wetha, Solo Artist still feels like a work in progress, however, lacking a unique musical identity on-stage and the tunes to mitigate that.
beabadoobee (real name: Bea Kristi) may still be chasing a specific identity which is all hers, but she’s at least got plenty of tunes to offset that fact. The last time I saw Bea live was before the world shut down as an opener for The 1975 on their UK arena tour where, despite her best efforts, she drowned under Leeds Arena’s usual bad sound mixing, an apathetic crowd uninterested in giving her a chance, and a setlist heavy on the mid-to-low tempo side. It felt like one of those ‘too much too soon’ moments which can afflict up and coming artists.
Fortunately, tonight, with a crowd so gagging for her to play that they screech their lungs out when she peeks her head out to the balcony for a few seconds at night’s start, goes significantly better. After opening with Space Cadet standout “Sun More Often,” a choice hard not to read as a cheeky retaliation to the past 18 months where the vast majority of us couldn’t “go out and see the sun more often,” Bea and her band barrel into the three big up-tempo singles from debut LP Fake It Flowers – “Care,” “Dye It Red,” and “Together” – one after another after another. That record functioned as a tying-off of beabadoobee mk. 1, collecting together the various aesthetic dresses she’d worn across the three-EP run leading up whilst supercharging both the songwriting and production so that they’d feel much more at home in environments like this rather than solo streaming. As the first mosh pit enthusiastically collapses in on itself during the stop-start chorus of “Care,” it’s fair to say that Bea’s music has certainly graduated up a few levels between our last encounter.
Other than “Sorry,” which explodes anyway at the song’s halfway mark, the glut of low-tempo ballads which bogged down Fake It’s second half (mostly thanks to poor sequencing) are conspicuous by their absence tonight. Instead, this is a raucous high-energy affair with only a few rest stops along the way. Loveworm’s “Disappear” provides a welcome dreamy respite after the initial hit parade, whilst “Tired” from her first EP gets a mass of shambling-ly co-ordinated swaying hands. Other than those and the customary encore airing of “Coffee,” it’s all ‘go,’ the better to demonstrate how much more muscular these up-tempo songs get live when freed of the compressed mastering on-record. “Care”’s post-chorus guitar riff was already an irresistible little thing, but it’s practically a circular buzzsaw with the live guitar tone and less precise picking. “Yoshimi, Forest, Magdalene” benefits significantly from the less crowded mix of a four-piece live setting and Bea throwing her all into yelling the titular refrain. The climax of “She Plays Bass” is noticeably withheld for a few beats longer than usual to better whip up the crowd for the yearning climax here given a stripped-back breakdown drumbeat.
It’s very much a ‘no muss, no fuss’ show from the exclusive focus on big pleasing hits over deeper cuts – I, for one, would love to have heard the Clarity-reminiscent “Emo Song” make a proper live debut – to the compact length of the show (just 13 songs), to Bea’s lack of proper stage banter save for snarkily introducing “Coffee” as “death bed” (the uber-popular TikTok hit which sampled it) and exclaiming “that’s sexy!” to the show’s first big mosh pit. Still, Bea is significantly more confident a stage presence here than I’ve seen so far in her career, and both performer and crowd feed off of each other throughout the night. Giant grins are almost permanently plastered over Bea and her band all set long, and they visibly direct crowd traffic at every available opportunity, to which the crowd respond in kind with increasingly bigger mosh pits and loudly enthusiastic singing. It’s very clear that everybody in the room has missed the hell out of this and Bea chooses to leave them wanting even more. For tonight at least, it would seem that nature is healing.
Sun More Often
Dye It Red
She Plays Bass
Yoshimi, Forest, Magdalene
Last Day on Earth
beabadoobee is currently on tour. Get tickets for current and future dates from her website.
Words: Callie Petch