Monday the 26th of February, Manchester Deaf Institute
It is hard to believe that the shows on The Xcerts headline tour are their biggest to date. The 300 capacity Deaf Institute may seem a modest size for a band that has been kicking around for a while, but packing out this venue indicates to me that the Scottish trio is finally getting their long deserved dues.
When I saw the band in 2013 as main support to Lower Than Atlantis in London, their raw and energetic performance made me wonder why I hadn’t seen their name around more. Until this year, that has pretty much remained constant, which is a great shame. 2014’s There Is Only You is a criminally overlooked record. A beautiful ode to loss and grief, that manages to remain life-affirming, it was an album that deserved to see the band recognised for the achievement.
Fast forward four years and we have Hold On To Your Heart. A stunning, 80’s infused hit machine, yet equally heartfelt as There Is Only You. Not only have they released this record into what is generally a far better period for rock music than 2014, but it feels like a defining moment in their career. It is their strongest, most experimental, yet rewarding album that they have put their name to and based on this and their live show, they are hitting their deserved upward trajectory.
The Xcerts took the stage in a somewhat sombre manner. Opening with Hold On To Your Heart’s slow first track ‘The Dark’. It seemed a bold move considering how little time has passed since release. This certainly conveyed confidence in their new material. It is a beautiful album opener, but the band seemed a bit off the boil at first, although ‘Daydream’ picked up the pace of the show.
Frontman Murray MacLeod then graphically told the audience how ill he had been and that the gig nearly had to be cancelled. This did show at first, but as it went on Murray became much more comfortable and the songs sounded all the better for it.
If opening with ‘The Dark’ was gutsy, The Xcerts went on to completely one-up themselves by playing every song from the new album. Most bands who are four albums deep into their careers would not dream of this. Especially with it being out for just over a month. But on this showing, it paid off with how exceptional the songs all sounded, and how much the crowd backed the decision.
Murray expressed his gratitude to the crowd saying he was “glad you’re all digging it” after he told of how they played in front of twelve people at a festival only a year before. He spoke of their goal to pack out the Deaf Institute since they supported The Get Up Kids in the venue and was justifiably chuffed to bits to have done exactly that. For him, it is as much a personal triumph as any having come through such a low period in his life to create this remarkable piece of art.
The dominance of new songs in the set did not take away from their older material. ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘Shaking in the Water’s’ colossal hooks ensured a familiar start to the set before they dived back into ‘First Kiss Feeling’, ‘Crisis in the Slow Lane‘ and ‘Aberdeen 1987’ nodded back The Xcerts’ youth and music that resonates more with teenage angst than the demons Murray had to face later on.
‘Aberdeen 1987’ especially held its own in the set list, and hearing the whole room sing along to its chorus showed that The Xcerts’ core fanbase had stuck by them, along with those they have gained recently. Give them some more time however, and it would not be foolish to suggest that ‘Cry’ will gather a similar unity in their audiences.
Songs like ‘Slackerpop’ show off the band’s stellar back catalogue, but the dominance of the new record in the set list simply shows just how irrefutably brilliant it is. Despite lacking Will Gardener of Black Peaks on saxophone, ‘Drive Me Wild’ sounded stadium-sized in this small venue with its Springsteen-tinged, wondrous nature.
A crowd member shouts, “Murray. You drive ME wild,” during a pause, summing up better than anyone could how I felt by the end of the night. In fairness to him, it was impossible to not be infatuated with his on-stage presence. This tour displays encouraging signs for The Xcerts, and I truly hope they continue to be shown more of this overdue appreciation as more people hear the record. They deserve your love.