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17th May 2024

Bleachers live in Manchester: Fan-centric show from the studio to the stage

The Jack Antonoff-fronted six-piece, Bleachers, break the fourth wall at their Manchester O2 Ritz show equipped with theatric production but packed with earnest, artist to audience interactions
Bleachers live in Manchester: Fan-centric show from the studio to the stage
Alex Locket @ Huxley PR

Words by Lauren Hague

Led by pop production titan Jack Antonoff, the indie-pop outfit Bleachers marked their return to Manchester for their debut as a fully-fledged six-piece. A small but dedicated circle of the Bleachers fan community, whom Antonoff deems ‘Bleachers people’, lined the street outside the O2 Ritz from the late morning, patiently waiting for the show to begin.

The Springsteen-esque six-piece took to the stage, beginning with the opening track on their most recent album I Am Right On Time. This proved humorously ironic after the group were exactly six minutes fashionably late behind their set time.

No time was spared on delving into the hits as saxophonist Evan Smith followed suit playing the opening notes to Bleachers’ latest lead single ‘Modern Girl’. The track is an energetic, brassy rock song favouring tongue-in-cheek lyrics throughout; name-dropping various band members including Bleachers OG “Mikey Freedom Heart” and Evan Smith himself being a prominent feature.

“This feels like a home show,” Antonoff declared to the packed audience, which upon ticket release had sold out within minutes. Antonoff’s compliment to the predominantly Mancunian crowd proved even more special in prelude to performing the band’s hit ‘Chinatown’. The track is a love letter to Antonoff’s home state New Jersey, featuring none other than legendary fellow New Jerseyan and prominent musical influence of Bleachers’, Bruce Springsteen.

New Jersey provides themes not only at the heart of Bleachers but at the core of Antonoff’s songwriting. Fans screamed the lyrics “I’ll take you out of the city honey, right into the shadow,” referencing New Jersey being in the shadow of New York. An earnest Jack Antonoff didn’t appear displaced whilst singing the lyrics, as he had appeared at previous London shows. Antonoff certainly associated Manchester with being a culturally sacred “shadow” to somewhere more vast such as London, establishing a strong bond with the roaring audience.

Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Next up was ‘Rollercoaster’ – an early single from when the band contained solely Antonoff. The track seeks to showcase his signature synth-pop sound at its most blatant, and the crowd responded appropriately, as a hefty portion of the audience met Antonoff’s demand to “get up on each other’s shoulders,” igniting the sort of communal bliss that can only be achieved through the magic of live music.

Manchester appeared as the third date on the ‘From The Studio To The Stage Tour’, leaving leeway for the newly developed tradition of Antonoff including a fan-requested song in the acoustic section of the show. Fan-made signs blending song requests with humorous abuse aimed at Antonoff, banter he started amongst the ‘Bleachers people’ on Twitter.

After attending two London Bleachers shows the same week previously sign-less, I decided it was time to join in and display my dedication. Jack paused to read the words “I postponed my operation for this, please play ‘Don’t Go Dark’” from my flimsy piece of Amazon box graciously gifted to me in the queue for the show. “Well I’m not gonna play it” Antonoff joked, before conferring with saxophonist Zem and drummer ‘Riddles’ in an attempt to remember the correct chords for the fan-favoured deep cut.

Witnessing my favourite band play my favourite song and dedicate it to me was enough to make me feel like I was in a dream and would wake up to sigh in disbelief at any moment. For others, however, my choice of song being played spontaneously symbolised a sentiment of gratitude from Antonoff to his core community of fans, cementing themselves as a band who not only exist because of their fans but exist for their fans.

Bands existing solely for their fans is something that feels like a rarity these days. With ticket costs on the rise, music fans are often priced out thanks to the interference of corporate labels’ behaviour. Rather than sharing in that all-too-common disconnect between artists and their fans, Bleachers prove they aren’t ones to follow suit. This felt all the more fitting as the band closed the show on one of their most successful and simultaneously fan-favoured singles, ‘Don’t Take The Money’ – a title that could double up as words of advice for many growing artists beginning to make it big.

With Bleachers, there is no scepticism about their artistic integrity. Fans are at the forefront of every endeavour; everything else up for gain is simply a bonus, one of many reasons which makes a Bleachers show worthwhile.

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