Tuesday the 6th of February, Manchester Academy 2
Massachusetts rock band Highly Suspect came to Manchester on the 6th of February, performing the sixth leg of their 2018 European tour at Academy 2. The sellout crowd filled the room during support act Welles and excitedly received the trio, consisting of guitarist Johnny Stevens and twin brothers Rich and Ryan Meyer on bass and drums.
A DJ introduced the band over rap tracks, a curiously misfitting choice for a rock act thankfully interrupted by the start of the band’s performance. Starting slowly with the downtempo ‘Bath Salts’ as an unorthodox yet fitting opener. The early Mister Asylum track did not disappoint, nor did the next track from the same record, ‘Lost’.
Despite best efforts the levelling began noticeably unbalanced. Stevens waved and waved to raise his microphone volume, while backing vocals and drums were far too prominent in the mix. The initial loudness did not complement the initial simplicity of drumming. Soon though, levels were adjusted and complexity increased, to great benefit of the overall sound. Bassist Rich Meyer displayed wonderful vocal capabilities and Stevens slammed his guitar messily yet attractively.
It’s great to see rising bands reinvigorating blues music in their sound and here Highly Suspect were at their finest. Enormously versatile modern blues rock with a punk bite.
The show reached the very peak of quality and energy during ‘Lydia’, the Grammy nominee performed impeccably rendering the crowd a bouncing mass of bodies.
What is clear too is that the band have not only put huge effort into their music but also in putting on a show. Crowd pleasing gimmicks were received exactly as intended, roadies leaping onstage to shower the front rows in beer being a particular highlight.
Around halfway, a roadie joined drummer Ryan Meyer for an extended solo while other members nipped off for a drink and a smoke. This proved a clever way to keep the crowd excited during intermission. But from here, a good idea was massively overcooked.
After the solo came a 25-minute — yes, 25 — instrumental as Stevens messed around with a pretty dreadful synthesizer, as out of tune with the show as the DJ.
Ingenuity turned into self-indulgence, and these confusing moments almost entirely felled the momentum they had worked so hard to build up.
To their credit the band did manage to wrangle the energy of the show back into place once the instrumental had ended. Stevens and Meyer swapping guitars mid-song was undeniably cool, and the use of roadies to continue the performance while band members crowd surfed was inspired.
‘My Name Is Human’ was another high point. Anthemic chorus and vocals machine gunned by Stevens. The US Billboard topper had the energy to close the show on a high, yet the band continued on.
It’s unusual to see a band with only two albums playing beyond curfew, even without an encore. This show was an unusual one all over, for better or for worse.
This is a band who need to trim the fat onstage and control their versatility a little more maturely, without losing all the fun. On this occasion, Highly Suspect messed around the formula and at times missed the mark, in an otherwise entertaining and well-performed show.