Sometimes a “reunion tour” doesn’t really feel like a reunion at all. With live music across the board having been on the back burner for the past few years anyway, the 2016 disbandment of Coventry guitar heroes The Enemy is still fresh in the memory, especially given that frontman Tom Clarke spent much of the band’s downtime performing the songs from their debut album extensively on a solo acoustic run across the UK. What it does feel like is a much-needed hit of the reset button – a chance to not only celebrate 15 years of their widely acclaimed debut album ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ by playing it in full, but to embrace simply being able to gather together again with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and purpose.
It’s quickly obvious that the sold-out crowd are in high spirits and up for playing their part in making the evening a success when the band emerge and launch into punk-indebted opener ‘Aggro’ as Clarke shouts “are we going to fucking have it tonight or what, Birmingham?” to deafening cheers. Always with more of a “spirit of ‘77” approach than most of their British indie peers back in 2007, the album’s big strengths lie in the ability to channel the urgency of bands like The Jam and The Clash in particular whilst putting their own working class spin on things. It’s also packed full of huge-sounding singles like ‘Away From Here’ and ‘Had Enough’ which appear early on in the running order and very quickly elevate the show up a few notches. “Four songs in and this is already easily the best night of the tour so far, Birmingham!” beams Clarke, noting that bassist Andy Hopkins had been setting expectations high for this particular show before arriving on stage. “I think he might have called it right, you know!”
The turning point comes with the heartfelt anthems ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ and ‘You’re Not Alone’, the former in particular a ‘That’s Entertainment’-style rallying call that sees the audience in fine voice whilst drawing attention to Clarke’s clever songwriting and showing a bit of a different side to the band musically. The energy levels never drop throughout the evening however, and the crowd need little encouragement to bounce and sing along to ‘It’s Not OK’ and ‘Technodanceaphobic’ as Hopkins enthusiastically rushes out into the centre of the stage to survey the venue leaping in unison during ‘40 Days And 40 Nights’, which features the band paying tribute to fellow Coventry legends The Specials with a brief snippet of ‘Ghost Town’ during the song’s breakdown. Perhaps the high point of the evening comes tucked away as the album draws to a close, with ‘This Song’ the kind of stadium-sized anthem U2 would be proud of, extended out with the crowd singing the final refrain even after quiet palate cleanser ‘Happy Birthday Jane’ brings the album and main set to an end.
Some might say that where The Enemy ultimately fell short during their initial run was failing to surpass the high bar set by ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ on their following three albums, but tonight’s encore is a short reminder that there’s plenty of highlights to be found amongst their later works too, especially with singles ‘Be Somebody’ and ‘No Time For Tears’ from 2009 follow-up ‘Music For The People’. The final word this evening has to lie with the classic debut though, and the band’s reprise of ‘This Song’ ensures that the show ends on a triumphant note. It’s a perfect celebration – not so much a nostalgia trip as a reinforcement that The Enemy are back to do what they do best with a sense of unfinished business.
Elsewhere on tonight’s lineup, there’s a further reunion in the shape of Sheffield’s Little Man Tate, who receive a fantastic reception from an audience already primed to reminisce about 2007. Energetic, lively and sounding even better than the last time they were active, singles such as opener ‘Man, I Hate Your Band’ and ‘What? What You Got’ are potent reminders of the indie group’s strengths – sure, frontman Jon Windle’s stage presence and cheeky delivery are reminiscent of Yorkshire contemporaries like The Cribs and early Arctic Monkeys, but there’s a closer link musically to the previous wave of Britpop bands with hints of Shed Seven and The Bluetones throughout. One new song ‘Cheap Stolen Kisses’ suggests that the band are ready to pick up where they left off with a new record and tour promised for next year and they’re a great addition on this bill.
Opening up the show are new faces Wide Eyed Boy, who bring a slightly heavier take on guitar music perhaps more in the vein of arena-rockers like Nothing But Thieves – the catchy hooks of ‘I’m Not The Only One’ and singer Ash’s falsetto vocals on set-closer ‘Loving You Is So Easy’ are particularly impressive and the band’s enthusiastic delivery hints at the potential for a similar trajectory if they get the exposure and follow up on their initial promise. “We hope to see you in the future, because it can’t be in the past” remarks Ash as the band leave the stage. I wouldn’t bet against it.
Review and photographs: Ian Paget
Feature photograph courtesy of PR