NME Awards Tour – Manchester Academy

Mystery Jets, We Are Scientists, Arctic Monkeys and Maximo Park line up for the latest leg of the Northern Men Everywhere tour - but there's only one band everyone's really here to see...

[r-zone1]There are few ways to almost guaranteed super-stardom. You could shack yourself up with several screwed up Z-list celebrities and pretend to fall in love with a bimbo from Essex. You could even possibly get yourself involved with a prominent Liberal Democrat. A slightly easier way is to get yourself rostered on the NME Awards Tour. With Franz Ferdinand, Kaisers Chiefs and Coldplay benefiting in recent years, the bands on this year’s line up must already be wetting themselves with glee. This year’s tour has the added spice that the second on the bill act, Arctic Monkeys, are already guaranteed their place in that particular House of Fame.

The latest stop for the tour, inexplicably sponsored by a hair gel company, is the first of two nights in Manchester. Despite evidence of the riot vans Alex Turner takes to task in the song of the same name, the crowd have formed an orderly queue. Perhaps, they think there’s free food in the refectory. But Turner’s recent diatribe against the touts hasn’t put them off and tickets are changing hands for stupid money.

[l-zone2]Arguably, the most pressure is on the openers, Eel Pie Islanders Mystery Jets. Can they live up to past openers reputations? Certainly, there isn’t the same fervour Kaiser Chiefs had whipped up at the same time last year. There is a distinct air of apathy around and only a slight rush from the bar as the opening bars sound. This may have something to do with the fact the “Zoo Time” chant sounds remarkably like “Zutons” and the hoards are confused. Despite the best efforts of vocalist/percussionist, Blaine Harrison – a sort of zany Phil Collins with hair and a tambourine – the Jets don’t really take their chance. The patchy sound doesn’t help and we know that songs like ‘The Boy Who Ran Away’ can sound so much better. They do have to be applauded, though, for making a song about an accountant sound sexy (‘You Can’t Fool Me Dennis’).

[r-zone3]There is much more excitement abounding for New Yorkers We Are Scientists. They will be the ones to take up the Kaiser’s mantle, embroiling the same passion and zest, despite the fact that they do actually look like Scientists. But don’t let the comedy moustache fool you; these guys mean business. Each song effortlessly segues into another and they don’t leave much time for witty banter, preferring to let the music do the talking – which is just as well because when bassist Chris Cain does speak it sounds like an American kookaburra filtered through a British rail microphone. Cain may be an adept bassist, but he is not that adept at dodging moving cans. One hits him squarely in the face and he delights the crowd by picking it up non plussed and drinking from it. The irony that this is followed directly by latest single ‘It’s a Hit’ is possibly lost on the moron that threw it.

[l-zone4]As the Scientists leave the stage, the atmosphere builds, reminiscent of a scene from Shaun Of The Dead as thousands of zombies rampage to the front. Bizarrely someone asks me if they have time to have a piss before the monkeys come on – a line I must remember if I ever become a Hollywood scriptwriter. There isn’t anything left to say about Arctic Monkeys. Everyone already knows about the internet hype, the biggest selling debut album, and so on, but when a band can open with their two number one songs and still hold the imagination right to the end you know something special is happening. The monkey followers join in right from the “Who’s that girl there?” of ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ right through to the end. There is some kudos in knowing you are there tonight, witnessing the last tour where Turner and company will be playing a venue this small. Watching the crowd surfing and shirtless men on the shoulders of their mates, I can’t help thinking it will be sad when the Manchester Arena staff are putting a stop to all those type of antics. This must have been what it was like when Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount. On this showing though, crucifixion won’t be as quick to follow.
[r-zone5]You’ve got to feel sorry for Maximo Park. Billed as headliners, they have to follow the biggest hyped up band since The Libertines. If Alex Turner is Noel Gallagher for the My Space generation, then Paul Smith is Jarvis Cocker. He has the same gawky look, but is similarly transformed when he hits the stage. His lyrics have the same wit and intelligence. By the time the lights go down, the few that have come to see the monkeys have disappeared into the city and the rest of us are treated to a virtuoso, high powered performance. Smith enters the stage with the splits and a somersault, but it doesn’t go entirely to plan as he loses his bearings and picks up the wrong microphone. Nobody minds because tonight Smith is a man who can do no wrong. And it isn’t just Smith who has the mad manic moves. During ‘Limassol’, keyboard man Lukas Wooler teaches George Galloway a thing or two about robotics and becomes more and more animated as the night wears on, and even laid back bassist Archis Tiku works himself up to a frenzy. The set is so great you don’t have time to wonder why the stage is done up to resemble a men’s toilet; or why Smith picks up a book and pretends to be reading the words Shane Magowan style during ‘Once, A Glimpse’. As an anthem, ‘Apply Some Pressure’ rivals anything the Monkeys had to throw at us and there’s a welcome harder, punkier edge to the songs live than on the album. By the time the closing bars of ‘Going Missing’ have finished, any sceptics among us are completely won over.

The whole experience has made me want to speed up time and fast forward to festival season. Having seen these bands in small tents last year there is one thing to say to them. ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Main Stage’!