The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019

The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019The Blinders @ O2 Institute, 26 April 2019

I have been fortunate enough over the last 18 months to have seen The Blinders play four times including tonight, at four different venues; each venue on each tour twice the size as the preceding one.  This has taken over a couple of years to achieve, so not a meteoric rise, but it has been a steady building up of a solid fanbase that finds Brumlive’s favourite band at the Library Room of the O2 Institute.  All of my previous reviews have been honest and mostly glowing, so I am fascinated to see how The Blinders perform on a larger stage with the added confidence a packed room can give them.

Before the band even take to the stage it is pretty clear that the show will not be like anything they have done before.  On this tour, The Blinders are prepared and they are treating fans new and old to a performance.. not a gig.. a full experience.  And so the first few minutes of the set starts in darkness with flashes of light static and a deafening audio soundscape conjuring up the end of days, as if we are tuning into radio signals from an underground bomb shelter, picking up beauty and hate speech in equal measure.  There is even a nod to Gene Wilder’s ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka for those of us who remember when ‘Swine’ was played live with the Boat Ride monologue as its centrepiece, when Tom used to scream “There is no hope”… but there is hope if you are prepared to battle on against the odds.  This is expressed simply when the three lads from Doncaster hit the stage and blast into opener ‘Gotta Get Through’ and band and lighting rig burst into life.  Previously, on smaller stages and basic venues there was no thought to what the lighting did, but here it is choreographed and synced with the music; and some clever spark ensured that the spotlights are bright enough to melt your corneas… blinding in every sense of the word.

The setlist is an intelligent mix of every track from their album ‘Columbia’ but with an altered running order, an earlier single release and three new songs (see setlist below).  They have dropped ‘Swine’ altogether, which is a shame because this was a point in the show when Tom used to climb into the audience because the Wonka monologue didn’t require him to play guitar.  This is where there is a marked difference in the performance, particularly Tom’s; he does not leave the stage tonight.  I couldn’t tell whether this is on advice from management not wanting their investment damaged on the opening night of the tour, or insurers not covering anything that could be described as self-destructive or dangerous.  Maybe they saw Tom on the audience’s shoulders at the Castle and Falcon last year, as he held onto the air conditioning unit hanging from the ceiling, and thought this has to stop before someone gets hurt.  It could also be the venue’s policy – I don’t know.  But I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed that what we gained in professionalism, we lost in the pure exhilaration of seeing someone risk life and limb for a performance.  In some ways this is a natural progression in the life of a working band; early shows are about making an impression and being unforgettable, with only the audience to inspire, now The Blinders have become a commodity that requires protecting.  And with that, there is a shift in mentality from wild abandon to simply putting on a brilliant show.  And this they still do, without any doubt.  In fact, if this is the first tour you see them on, you will not think anything is amiss, but for others it is easy to long for the band’s initial punk ethic when there was actual blood.  This does not affect the crowd in any way though and the mosh pit is lively and friendly throughout the set.  Seeing a couple embrace and kiss in the middle of that maelstrom during the sensual Doors-esque ‘Ramona Flowers’ made me think of the V-J in Times Square photograph, that despite recent negative connotations, conveyed those lost in the emotion of a moment… this is what The Blinders can inspire through their music – the importance of the moment.

A welcome addition to the set is the glorious album track ‘Ballad of Winston Smith’, which I guess didn’t appear before now due to its slower tempo in their usual intense list of high octane songs.  The opening lyrical hook of ‘Hoodwink society’ is genius and its more complex melodic structure is a welcome contrast against a night of thumping riffs.  When I first heard the album it was heartening to see their musical development in this ballad and the new songs played tonight confirm this even further.  Somehow they are both melodic and riff heavy, so should please their fans and critics alike.

The musicianship tonight seems sharper and better rehearsed than ever with Matty and Charlie never putting a note or drumbeat wrong in the rhythm section.  They are unbelievably tight throughout and with so many sections in their arrangements where everyone stops for one beat or there is a half bar, the timing is immaculate and they are totally together.  Tom’s guitar playing has also noticeably improved and moreover he didn’t have to keep changing guitars due to broken strings or tuning problems like on previous tours.

The main set ends as usual with ‘Et Tu’ and ‘Brutus’, which seem to have been extended slightly with more breaks, where the music pulls back and thumps in again, and this is reflected in the mosh pit which ebbs and flows with the music on stage.  As mentioned earlier Tom does not leave the stage, so there is no physical splitting of the audience by him during the ‘They’re gonna build a Berlin wall; divide you in two’ line, which was always a powerful image I remember from the Sunflower Lounge, which admittedly has no four foot metal crash barrier to clamber over… no dividing wall.  The irony.

Still, even with my reservations over certain aspects of the performance, it is still an inspiring show; improved immeasurably as a visual spectacle and a noticeable focus on shaping a setlist for maximum effect.  There is still a little to do I believe in this area as there are notable drops in the room’s energy for ‘Free The Slave’ and ending with ‘Orbit’ (even when played with the full band) as the last song proper, does not seem a fitting end to such a powerful set… it kind of fizzles out instead of going out with a bang or finishing with a feeling of euphoria.  I would love to see ‘Rat In a Cage’ fill the important place at the end of the set, with everybody singing ‘Come together, we need each other’ as they spill out onto the damp dark Digbeth street.

I still feel The Blinders are working hard to present the best possible experience for their audience and this is heartening as they are clearly not resting on their laurels, or just doing the same controversial thing for the sake of it.  They are a living, breathing, thinking band, willing to change things but always improving in the long run, even if some changes lose the rough edges that were initially so incredibly endearing.  What is equally encouraging is even when their professionalism outshines their wild unrestrained youthful energy, The Blinders still put on a breathtaking show that is better than any of their peers.

When I interviewed the band last week I asked them about their future ambitions and they said humbly, if they get to play Glastonbury but then “the whole thing fell to bits, well then that’s OK”.  On the evidence of tonight, and all the hard work they have already invested in this, I will state for the record, there is no fucking way this band with just fall to bits… they may implode or explode but it will be spectacular and thrilling whatever happens.

Setlist:

Gotta Get Through

Brave New World

Ramona Flowers

Wither*

Free the Slave

I Can’t Breathe Blues

Where No Man Comes

Fourty Days & Fourty Nights* (sic)

Ballad of Winston Smith

L’etat C’est Moi

Hate Song

Lunatic With A Loaded Gun*

Rat In a Cage

Et Tu

Brutus

Orbit

* – new songs

sic – as spelt on the set list

 

Reviewer: Alan Neilson

Photographer: Marc Osborne

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