By Alex Cooper
New Century Hall is an incongruous place. The historic, beautiful venue with a timeless quality has hosted bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and even Jimi Hendrix. Recently reopened, an air of the 1960s is intertwined with the hall, and is a welcome addition to the mid-sized venues that Manchester has to offer.
Downstairs, however, hits a different note of expensive drinks and stylised, scrawled chalkboard writing that speaks to the millennial rather than the genesis of rock music. The two don’t sit entirely in harmony, yet not many things do nowadays, and it is par for the course for live music in 2023.
Even more interestingly, the band performing tonight are Shame. “Post-Brexit” stalwarts and bastions of youth in the ever-aging landscape, Shame have been an important player for half a decade. Their debut album, Songs of Praise, gave flavour to the emerging scene in its ferocious highs and introspective lulls. Their second, Drunk Tank Pink, saw the band become architects of huge, layered anthems that were irresistible in a lockdown-plunged world. Their latest, Food for Worms, completes the hat trick with live recorded, challenging songs about friendship, seeing them reach their most nuanced yet.
Live, Shame stun audiences. They thrive on subverting expectations, and their triumph is a testament to their constant evolution. Gold Coast rap duo They Hate Change opened the show, initially feeling a little bit discordant, yet once you committed yourself completely to the experience as a whole and left expectation at the door, the show became an opportunity for wonder. They got the party started with their back to back style of rapping and constant attention on crowd participation.
Shame have always been pigeonholed, like many other bands in the genre such as IDLES, Fontaines D.C., and Squid. Graduates of the Windmill in Brixton, they cannot avoid comparison or being spoken about in the same breath as many of their contemporaries. It is important to not treat music in isolation, yet with Shame, it feels appropriate to focus on them and their musicianship and escape the cycle.
As soon as Charlie Steen took to the microphone, and the band dived into album opener ‘Fingers of Steel’, lips parted across the crowd and smiles appeared. The sound mixing arrested the senses, with dynamic pauses in the track being as pronounced and anticipatory as you’d hope.
They didn’t relinquish any of the hits, either. Playing indie club mainstay ‘Concrete’ third, the crowd tipped over the edge into primitive instinct. Echoes of “No more questions” perhaps could’ve been heard from Victoria Station. Friends embraced after being split up by the pit, and the sprung floor of the recently renovated venue did what it did best.
Shame are carried forward by their incredibly charismatic frontman. Charlie Steen works the crowd, and is oftentimes one with the audience both emotionally and physically. Jumping in and out at songs’ climaxes, you can’t take your eyes off of him. Steen acts as a focal point, and allows the rest of the band to perform with incredible ability and in places, improvisation. He is almost like a band equivalent of comedian James Acaster; he’s compelling, and you’re not exactly sure why. Steen puts on a faux-American accent when talking to the crowd, and is incredibly expressive in performing. He stays in your head long after the show.
Several disparate facets for Shame in Manchester made for a grandstand finish. The band played ‘Orchid’, the “centrepiece” for the album, a wading and acoustic driven song that added texture to the set. The lights then turned the shade of pink so ubiquitous with Shame, and the introductory strains of ‘Snow Day’ began. Sounding crisp, sweet and incredibly evocative, the harmonies created a ball of energy that went through the motions of a song that turns at every possible juncture. The recorded song is a masterpiece; in this iteration of Shame, it is a work of art live.
Gear changes are never to be afraid of. After ‘Snow Day’, the band jumped straight into another indie club modern classic ‘One Rizla’. Then the narrative focused on the nostalgic ‘Angie’, following a story told by Steen’s father of a crush that committed suicide when they were teenagers. Euphoria spread at the mantra of “find your happy place”, and the bittersweet song felt perfect for the end of the set. This was not to be.
A final push from Shame saw them perform 2018’s punk-driven ‘Gold Hole’, as one final celebration of being the band they are. Steen became possessed, and treated the crowd as a tide. Each chorus of “shake me up” grew more intense. Like Metronomy’s performances typically ending with noise-rock, Shame nailed their knack for subversion.
The experience was nothing short of remarkable, and remarkable in its incongruity. The evening twisted, turned, and embraced the weirdness, and the end product was a wholly satisfying experience. Always see Shame, and never get what you expect.
You can stream Food for Worms below:
Copyright © The Mancunion
Powered By Spotlight Studios
0161 275 2930 University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR