It’s a dark and soggy night in Manchester, but the queue of eager punters that stretches forever don’t seem to mind. It’s been a while since Blue October stopped by, and their cintinuous upwards trajectory means that every time they visit it’s to a bigger venue. The plush interior of the O2 Ritz was filling up nicely and the crowd was chilling to the refined strains of smooth jazz over the PA as the buzz started to build.
This tour was delayed from the tail end of last year for the best possible reasons. The unexpected success of the last album, Home, opened many a door for the Texans in their homeland, and having promoted the album to death over there it was finally our turn to catch up with Justin & co.
We were only able to make it owing to a last minute change of “real world” work plans, which did mean the first three songs of both band’s sets were spent moaning about not having a camera and not being down in the photo pit.
Not natural being behind the crowd barrier for the first three songs!!
The support on this jaunt were Devon three piece Wildwood Kin. The folksy girls were an unusual choice but they soon won over the packed crowd, helped along by a crowd pleasing little chat about how much they love being oop north before launching into the impressive Warrior Daughter.
The band have been playing live for a couple of years, and they exuded easy confidence. The band is made up of two sisters and their cousin, and it’s the first sime we’ve seen a three piece that consisted of drums and lead vocals, Guitar and (to use a word never before written on CackBlabbath, a bouzouki-ist
Oh, they also packed an awesome line in family vocal harmonies
I’m not sure the band knew quite what to expect, almost apologetic about their more laid back moments “This next song is a bit more mellow. This is the first time we’ve toured with a rock band so we’ll try to rock out but we do have stuff that’s a bit more mellow so you’ll have to bear with us”
Honestly, we don’t mind and neither do the Manchester crowd who have taken to the band big time, and the band seem to have taken to the crowd signing off with a very polite “You’re a lovely bunch, thanks”.
After the smooth jazz that preceeded the opening band, there was an array of Grunge over the PA to get the crowd warmed up for the main event. The lights went down and the place erupted as the band arrived on stage. Blue October are one of those bands where if you know them you REALLY know them, and the sing-along kicked off and never really stopped. Things were just getting warmed up and when Sway raised the intensity it was clear that this was going to be something special. Again. Frontman Justin Furstenfeld had the crowd in the palm of his hand right from the start cutting a slightly messianic figure standing front and centre arms outstretched as the crowd hung on his every word.
Next it was time to get a good old fashioned bounce going. We were told “we’re going to play some Rock’n’Roll”, and there’s no better song in the Blue October arsenal to get a room jumping than Say it which threatened to blow the roof off the place.
“Manchester I don’t think you understand how special this is for me. My growing up was all bands from Manchester”. The “White trash boy on the stage” was clearly having the time of his life with his little chats between songs being delivered with easy confidence, even when he went on.. a bit.
Blue October have a couple of big hits to bring out to play too, the classic Into The Ocean getting (another) massive cheer and even massive-er sing along. “I can’t believe this song was written 10 fucking years ago”. When you think about all that Justin has been through in those 10 years it’s great to see him on this sort of form. He’s clearly in a much better place now and the band’s last couple of albums have documented this new found happiness. The rule for Home was simple “No song can be about how sad Justin is, we’ve done that over and over and over”.
Still, some of the songs about how sad or angry Justin was are pretty cool.
All too soon the band vacate the stage but of course there are encores. The lights go up to reveal Justin and his acoustic guitar. “Now we’re going to play some Smiths covers.. You don’t get stabbed for saying you like the Smiths?”
“The new guy doesn’t even know what the fuck I’m talking about”…
The first encore is a stripped back take on We Know Where You Go, which sees Jeremy Furstenfeld emerge from behind the drum kit to provide the backing vocals as Blue October are briefly reduced to a three piece with Jeremy, Justin and Ryan pouring heart and soul into the track.
The aforementioned new guy, guitarist Matthew Ostrander, is introduced to the crowd next and we’re told that part of the reason Matt got the gig was that he wanted it so bad he learned every Blue October song ahead of his audition. It’s definitely paid off and he has added a shot of youthful energy to Blue October’s stage presence, as Justin put it “He’s like 24 years old and we’re like *ahem*27″…
The new boy was kept off stage next though, as the original 4-piece Blue October lineup treated us to a rare outing for Chameleon Boy before Matt’s allowed back on for Worry List, “One song that I’ll never take off the setlist, it’s about my oldest daughter and when I play it it makes me feel like she’s right beside me”.
The evening is brought to a climax, as you’d expect, with a suitably angry version of Hate Me showing that while Justin may be in a happy place, he can still call up the demons that make him a brooding, intense presence on stage.
And that’s it, another night where Blue October confirm that they’re quite simply one of the best live bands around. We’re promised it won’t be so long before they come back, and we’re going to hold them to that.
And a last piece of advice… “Enjoy your life, you only get one”.