I was very impressed by VANT.
I briefly attended their set at Reading festival and I think I must have arrived at the wrong time, because I left feeling disinterested, unexcited about seeing them in this support slot. The second they started - the stuttering "C-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-call me" of 'The Answer' grabbing the attention of every person already in the venue - I was obsessed.
VANT stuffed their half an hour stage time to the brim with songs you could dance to, particularly 'Parking Lot' with its repeated "Wait a minute, cause your heart's not in it" chant. New single 'Peace & Love' was only released earlier this week, and its upbeat nature meant it already fitted perfectly with a set that was absolutely frenetic.
But it wasn't just the ability to dance to VANT that made them so appealing. 'Birth Certificate' is a very relevant discussion of immigration in the wake of Brexit ("Our legislation is so black and white/Immigration laws can't change overnight/Reminds me that you have to go home"), while 'Fly-By Alien' is from the viewpoint of an alien looking down on our species, announcing "That race is gonna kill itself, there'll be nothing left, we can take, take the shell".
Writing in the same vein as Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. (now Recreations.), it's brilliant to hear an upcoming UK band being so vocal regarding their political views from the very start of their set, announcing themselves by shouting "We are VANT, from Planet Earth!". It's been a long time since I've heard such a scathing review of attitudes to immigration and border control in a rock song - particularly one that's played regularly on the radio - and if this is what VANT have managed within their first two years of being a band, they're going to do a hell of a lot with their very bright future.
Welcome to the Wonderful World of Berners Lee
Peace & Love
Time & Money
Do You Know Me?
You Me At Six have grown up.
Three years ago, this would have been a predictable set filled with high octane numbers, jumping from single to single with little to no risks. The crowd would have loved every moment, but there would have been none of the rise and fall that is the sign of a truly legendary band. No political agenda, no provocative comments, nothing that made them special in a scene with figureheads like the inspirationally mouthy Enter Shikari.
You Me At Six were inoffensive, bland, vanilla.
But a year away has changed everything.
After lackluster fourth album 'Cavalier Youth', You Me At Six have taken the time away to reevaluate exactly what they're doing with their career. New singles 'Night People' and 'Plus One' have demonstrated a return to form, more reminiscent of the jolting 'Sinners Never Sleep' than the chilled out indie-rock of their latest release.
Now vocalist Josh Franceschi seems unafraid to use his microphone to preach to avid listeners. "I can't go back to being on tour and not do something bigger than ourselves, we need to do something that's bigger than You Me At Six," he shared, before joining the masses in slating presidential candidate Donald Trump, claiming him to be "one deluded man with a long big fucking microphone, talking a lot of shit" regarding people of different skin tones and sexual orientations and genders. He admitted that the band "might not be able to reach as many people as him" but had been "writing songs about this shit, but we've just never spoken about it openly", and this - combined with his recent vow to eliminate ticket touts - shows the band starting their new era in an extremely powerful way.
It's not just their words that have improved. Their setlist was the best they'd ever performed: intelligent, alternating between slow, tender moments and singalongs that left you breathless with the energy surging through the crowd. You Me At Six are at their best when they perform in smaller venues, and anyone who passed up the opportunity to see them on this tour has missed out on intimate shows unlikely to be repeated.
They started and ended their set with big surprises. Choosing 'When We Were Younger' as their opening song - a mournful ballad looking back on their youth - would normally suck the life out of a room, but the gradually building "oh, ohh-oh, ohh-oh" chant was an electric spark charging the crowd, ready to explode when they burst into 'Bite My Tongue', a song that has always been in the latter half of their shows.
The main part of the set was wrapped up with Josh's speech, which served as an introduction to the poignant and relatable 'Too Young To Feel This Old'. Whereas before I've called it boring and lazy, by cutting out the repetitive bridge ('"I'm just a boy", he said/"I'm just a girl," she said/"We're in love," they said/What happens next, who cares?') it made the song so much more mature, breathing life back into something that had previously seemed juvenile and pointless.
Reintroducing 'Safer To Hate Her' (which they haven't played live for four years) was a special treat for early fans disappointed with the lack of material from 'Take Off Your Colours', but I can't imagine anyone being able to complain about the expertly blended mixture of songs old and new.
Talking of new songs, they are superb. I'd already seen 'Plus One' and 'Night People' at their secret Reading festival set but they were too new to make an impact (both being live debuts, with 'Night People' released a mere five days before). At this show, they finally received the reaction they deserved. 'Plus One' is the heaviest song that the band have released in years, and with Josh roaring "I want you when I need you, every single night and day" it's a promising glimpse at the potential aggression bubbling under the surface of the new album. Closing the entire show with 'Night People' was a risk, but as You Me At Six proved tonight, they're no longer averse to those. It went down brilliantly, a mosh pit starting during penultimate track 'Room To Breathe' and not stopping until the band had left the stage.
'Swear' received its live debut on this tour, so the only people in the room that would have been familiar with it were those who had already attended a prior date. Despite the lack of familiarity it still managed to get people shifting, and while it's less energetic than the other two I'm sure it's going to grow on me with time.
This is a band that have taken themselves too seriously in the past, but finally seem to be relaxing and experimenting with what they can do. With Josh fumbling the words on 'Stay With Me' (switching a line from the second verse into the first verse) before sampling 'When You Were Young' by The Killers at the end of 'Reckless', the brand new ending to 'Too Young To Feel This Old' and a stripped back intro to 'Bite My Tongue' allowing the crowd to carry the song, this seems like a band who're finally allowing themselves to play around with their music, rather than striving for perfection.
With Josh announcing that the new album is "gonna kick your balls into your mouth", I want January to hurry up so I can finally hear it in its entirety. You Me At Six are back, and they're better than ever.
When We Were Younger
Bite My Tongue
Fresh Start Fever
Safer To Hate Her
Stay With Me
Reckless (When You Were Young sample)
Forgive and Forget
Lived a Lie
Win Some Lose Some
Too Young To Feel This Old
No One Does It Better
Room To Breathe
I'm attending another two You Me At Six shows this year (I know, I'm an addict!) and while I'm unlikely to write an in-depth post about their show at Shepherd's Bush Empire on the 24th - almost certainly the same set they played in Oxford - I'll definitely be reviewing their sold out show at the minuscule Dingwalls in Camden for the Dr Martens Stand For Something tour.