Photo of The Virginmarys by Liz Phillips.
The Virginmarys, Vox Empire and To the Bones
Academy 2, Manchester
22nd Nov 2013
The Virginmarys are on something of a roll at the moment. Last week they were officially announced “best breakthrough rock act” at The Classic Rock Awards 2013 and their current UK tour has been incredibly well received. Louder Than War managed to catch two of the shows on this tour, one that photographer Liz Phillips took her camera too and this one that Bruce Cousins took his notepad along to.
To The Bones kick off proceedings with a fire lit beneath them. They burn through Rex before a stomping rendition of Martian Motherfucker. Their Scuzzy punk makes you want to howl alongside singer-guitarist Rhys Gordon Bradley with vigour. The song Area 51, coupled with the singer’s space themed strap, makes me wonder if there is an alien obsession going on. But not for long as they positively race towards the finish of their forcefully loud set, ensuring that they win over Academy 2s sell-out crowd on the way.
Promising stuff from the Bolton born noise-nicks then, somewhat akin to the shout-along pleasures of Pulled Apart By Horses.
Vox Empire are the main support act for this tour and it is clear that they are up for the occasion with a collection of solid songs. They play a set full of confidence, underlined by their unique and somewhat perplexing dress sense. Their drummer Sam Harris, sporting a Chad Smith (RHCPs) cap, is only outdone in the outlandish fashion stakes by lead guitarist Jordan Wiltshire. The misguided combination of skinny tie and massive pendant necklaces (coupled with a delicious lower-than-low cut top) is easily mistaken for a recent medal haul. Not to say that he does not deserve medals, as I would happily award him one for the guitar solo he pulled off in “Home” alone. The set highlight comes from “Close Your Eyes” which captures the bands dress sense nicely.
When smoke erupts from behind the drum kit and “Jump Around” blasts out of the speakers, those in attendance do as commanded and it becomes immediately clear The Viginmarys have the audience in the palm of their hands without even trying. This is further illustrated by the impromptu clap along to two notes looped over and over – it doesn’t take much! This is still even before the band have reached the stage and precluding their take-off into “Portrait Of Red”. It is because they have already done the hard work, playing shows to barely anybody and building up the miles supporting bands up and down the country for years. Their popularity is such that the audience has the perfect spectrum of age present, neither dominated by dad rockers nor girly teen-fans. Perhaps this wonderful reach across a wide age range can be explained by “Out of Mind” which sounds like arctic monkeys covering Led Zepplin.
It is amazing just how big they sound for a three-piece. Guitarist Ally Dickaty is armed with an arsenal of effects pedals akin to Thomas Erak (The Fall Of Troy / Just Like Vinyl) so that even when there is a solo they do not lose any of their power, with the bones left up to flesh up by bassist Matt Rose. With his thunderous toms, dramatic drummer Danny Dolan is not to be outdone. He plays the majority of “Running For My Life” which features a brilliant Billy Talent-esque scream over a stonking rock riff standing, and is almost faster than the eye can see on his crash catches.
The lights go down as Ally plays a solo song, breaking up the set without losing any of The Virginmarys blues rock feel, his shadowed outline amalgamating those of rock legends like Jack White and Brian Molko. Throughout the show, whenever they slip into the quieter slow jams his bluesy guitar simply drips with remorse. “Off To Another Land” is dedicated to all the travelling fans, of which there are a few, causing a rambunctious ruckus at the front.
As the band walks off we are left with The Virginmarys stylized V drape gazing at us looking ominously red, before the crowd is given what they want. The encore of “Bang Bang Bang” which continues the end-of-tour party atmosphere and ensures that they go out with an almighty bang (bang bang)!
Don’t forget to check out our photo review of the band’s Liverpool date too.
All words by Bruce Cousins. More writing by Bruce can be found in his author’s archive.