By Alex Cooper
It doesn’t always take something special to displace the student population of Manchester. Club nights, raves, afters; many indistinguishable nights are part and parcel of the hedonistic lifestyle of Fallowfield. However, when the beloved Loyle Carner comes to town, causing a migration to Stretford’s O2 Victoria Warehouse, there’s a different energy.
Loyle Carner needs no introduction as his music is woven into the fabric of university living. Whether that be individual or collective, tracks spanning his three albums blast out of speakers across South Manchester, or are quietly embraced in headphones. He’s an artist with remarkable repeatability, and feels like hanging out with a close friend, reminiscing with love and embrace. Same conversation, never boring.
However, this is not to say Loyle Carner is not a political artist; his latest album hugo saw him delve into social issues in a much more explicit way than previous records Yesterday’s Gone and Not Waving, But Drowning. Carner speaks from the heart across all subjects, with beautiful and rare sincerity.
Backed by a five-piece band, Carner arrives on stage one minute before he’s due, to little introduction. He steps through an angled gap in the backdrop, between two lit white curtains. The sparsity of Victoria Warehouse can often feel cavernous; for Loyle Carner, it felt like a blank canvas on which he constructed a remarkable work of art.
Opening with hugo opener ‘Hate’, adorning a tightly zipped puffer jacket, Carner’s vocals are crisp, deliberate and passionate. Immediately, there’s no sense of cutting corners, but a born live performer leaving nothing out there. The minimalism in the visuals allow space for Carner to display emotion without fanfare, and with honesty. Carner speaks of the things he loves, the things he fears, with every syllable impacting upon the sold-out, 3,500 strong crowd.
The early set saw Not Waving, But Drowning favourite ‘You Don’t Know’ getting the party started, an example of the killer collaborations between Carner and Rebel Kleff. Kiko Bun’s hook reverberates around the room, with groups of friends shouting the earworm back at each other.
Carner adds texture to the set by standing under a lamppost, the only piece of mise-en-scène on stage, by reciting hugo track ‘Polyfilla’ as a poem. He is at many points active around stage, hyping the crowd up, and at others echoing Kendrick Lamar rapping with a mic stand, allowing the focus to be on his intricate lyricism and giving the rightful air of masterful control.
Loyle Carner is extremely talented, this is an indisputable fact. However, it never feels arrogant, and always feels sincere. While hearing ‘Angel’, a song about embracing those who hate and learning to be productive with it, emotion overcame me. “Like the fire needs the air / I won’t burn unless you’re there”; for me, this is an honest depiction of what it is to have love in your life, as a spectrum rather than an ideal. Carner excels, but never accelerates past what is important, and talks on subjects that maybe haven’t been treated with necessary gravitas, with incredible comfort yet brutal honesty.
This is further evidenced by Carner always citing his collaborators on stage. Mentions of legendary producer Madlib (with whom he suggested he has ‘1000 tunes’ unreleased), Tom Misch, Jorja Smith and Sampha, among many others. A carousel of generational talents have lifted Carner up in his career, and he pays homage. Equally, he gives voice to the future, with Athian Akec performing his sampled House of Commons Youth Debate speech on knife crime, featured on ‘Blood On My Nikes’.
The live set also saw feats of skill, such as an effortless transition between ‘Loose Ends’ and ‘Ice Water’, with Carner not missing a breath between the two songs. He is attentive in lyricism, and attentive in how he carries himself. Taking us aside for an anecdote, he talks on his relationship with fatherhood, and how that changed his relationship with his biological father, through the channel of driving lessons.
“After a while, I stopped speaking, and started to listen”, Carner recounts, and urges the crowd to go forwards in their life, and show love in all they do. Looking back to six years ago, Yesterday’s Gone opener ‘The Isle Of Arran’ suggests he “showed love and got nothing”. Now, it appears that Carner has found some form of peace in doing what he loves; even admitting he had a really bad day until he got on stage.
The Manchester crowd treated Loyle Carner with reverence. They came for the party, and he delivered, playing the hits that have become synonymous with student living. However, in Carner’s urge to ‘go forwards’, he encourages everyone to bring back something more than an average night out. Undeniably, Fallowfield saw a little more pause for thought that night. Re-entry to student life from the sanctuary of Loyle Carner’s performance perhaps carried more poignancy.
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