Sunday, June 1, 2014
Awolnation, Manchester Academy 2, 29th May 2014 8/10
This was one of those gigs where the audience was responsible for much of the atmosphere, and made a significant contribution to the vocals too. This can be attributed not only to the youthful enthusiasm of Manchester University's students, but also to the charisma of Aaron Bruno. Awolnation's seasoned lead was an almost messianic figure on stage, commanding the crowd. They responded by jumping up and down, dancing, singing and crowd surfing. For much of the set, he eschewed his guitar in favour of just a microphone, giving him the freedom to dance manically, and eccentrically. I'd heard a report of poor sound at their Birmingham show, but whilst it was bass heavy last night, the vocals were still audible.
Towards the end of their 90 minutes on stage, Aaron exalted: 'we will always be the underdogs'. There's a deliberate pursuit of eccentricity, which would be quite British if it wasn't accompanied by Californian swagger and confidence. I was amazed by Awolnation's energy when they played Manchester's smaller Deaf Institute venue in 2011, and their Coachella appearance six month's later was notable for inspiring a wild frenzy in the desert. The band returned to Manchester again a year ago, yet they have performed little new material since the release of their début album Megalithic Symphony. Last night, we heard an untitled song newly performed on this UK tour, and a couple of numbers from the album's deluxe edition, but otherwise the set list was almost identical to 2011's. Yet the repetition didn't make this show feel routine.
Aaron draws crowds repeatedly because the intensity of the experience he creates, and the way that the songs are transformed each time they're played live. He explained in this interview how they aim to not just perform the album, and Awolnation has phenomenal stage presence. Aaron talks directly to individual fans, and came down to the rail to touch the hands of the dedicated folk at the front; this was a collective experience. Yet, unlike Neutral Milk Hotel, the music doesn't contain profound hidden meanings, but is purely escapist fun. There was nothing reverential about the audience reaction last night either: this was a rowdy, loud affair. Aaron's vocals had greater passion than refinement: he was prone to screaming the lyrics, as he gave all.
There were times when I wished for a greater variety of mood: Megalithic Symphony in album form exhibits more variety, as ballads accompany the electro rock and 80's rock influenced songs such as Burn it Down. The encore Knights of Shame, contains an eclectic mix of styles, but here was in danger of becoming bombastic. As we develop, our tastes change, and this time I craved some respite from all this extroversion. I found the support band Eliza and the Bear relentlessly upbeat and euphoric, despite the inclusion of a trumpeter. Their emphasis on a simple rhythm and lack of dynamic range or nuance quickly became wearing. Yet, Awolnation ultimately inspired me more because of their remarkable performing ability, and the response from wonderfully receptive audience. The culmination of this combination came in their Platinum hit Sail, which had an instantaneously infectious joy. This is escapism at its most exuberant.