Wednesday made their sparkling return to Manchester on a dreary Monday night, hot on the heels of a sold-out gig at YES Basement in June. Armed with more space at Band on the Wall, and ever-relevant tunes from their 2023 album Rat Saw God, it’s clear that fans cannot get enough of this indie rock powerhouse. The room was expectant and still.
But first, Lowertown’s support burst into action. Olive Osby sang through gritted teeth, her voice snarling around the band’s signature spacey guitar tones.
“I hate all these slimy people!” she shrieked with delicate rage, for the band’s erratic number ‘No Way’. Lowertown performed infectious riffs with the energy of a wound-up spring, allowing Osby’s movement and wildness to shine.
‘Bline’, released only days earlier on new EP Skin of My Teeth, allowed the band to show off both a darker, electronic side and Avshalom Weinberg’s bright vocals. The clear crowd favourite, ‘Best Person You Know’, saw Lowertown balance slick, folky riffs with the desperate undertones of its lyrics.
Although it marked their first time in Manchester, Lowertown’s explosive success caught no one off guard. Catching up with Weinberg after the show, he revealed their hunger for a headline set in the city, as a lingering host of superfans murmured in agreement – watch this space.
Before the dust could settle, Wednesday assumed their scattered places on stage. Slinging on their guitars, the band began ‘Ghost of a Dog’ with a quiet focus. The first half of their set was spent navigating the nooks and crannies of country, pioneered by Xandy Chelmis and the soft twangs from his lap steel guitar. ‘Chosen to Deserve’ took this exploration to the next level, with crunchy power chords that resulted in ecstatic headbanging from the crowd.
Karly Hartzman’s voice was cutting, narratorly, and integral to Wednesday’s intoxicating interpretation of the Midwest emo genre. The lyrics she sang were highly personal, and throwaway references to “acres of cotton” and “cartoon crucifixes” firmly situated them in the band’s North Carolina home.
Yet members of their Manchester audience passionately rattled off every word as if it were their own. Hartzman illuminated this baffling connection through one of many backstories told as Wednesday tuned between songs: a friend who had moved from the UK, who showed her the British TV show ‘Skins’ in middle school. “We were just inspired to live that lifestyle!” Hartzman explained as the room lit up with laughter from the many who shared the same experience in their teens. Satisfied, the band lilted into ‘Quarry’, which sees country devolve into lush, raucous distortion.
Angst, set to a backdrop of shoegaze, defined the rest of Wednesday’s set. At this turning point, it became excitingly obvious that the front row was full of young girls. Midwest emo has often seen female creativity overshadowed, in favour of a wave of frontmen who indulge in their own sadness and sometimes even in outright misogyny. This has naturally left little space for female fans to fully engage with the genre.
However, without having to be explicit, Wednesday clearly provide a soundtrack through which one can explore the less desirable aspects of girlhood. Following the wailing, swooping guitar frenzy in ‘Fate is…’, Hartzman herself even pointed out: “You girls at the front, you’re the only ones really moving.”
The audience’s adoration bordered on cultlike. The band reciprocated this eagerly by taking requests, met with unanimous clamour for ‘November’, the definitive highlight of the night. Slow, noisy, and drenching, through this song Wednesday transformed the venue into an intimate basement show, with this even aided by the forgetting of lyrics and a stumbling start.
Before they ended with a cacophonous rendition of ‘Bull Believer’, Hartzman requested donations at the merch table to the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund. She dedicated the song to anger and asked that the room scream along with her.
Hannah Ewens, author of ‘Fangirls’, commented on the importance of music to the collective identity of young women: “To be a fan is to scream alone together.” Wednesday and Lowertown’s electrifying Manchester sets demonstrate how they are changing the game for strong female-fronted bands, one gig at a time.