This tour sees Of Mice And Men take on their biggest UK venues to date, fresh from supporting none other than Marilyn Manson and Slipknot over in the states. They’re joined by Crown The Empire, who graced Warped Tour with their presence throughout the summer, and Canberra’s very own Hands Like Houses. Tonight they play Manchester’s O2 Apollo.
Hands Like Houses waste no time getting things going, and opener I Am brings a sing-along chorus within moments; even though the crowd aren’t exactly on a level with the band yet, there’s definitely more than a spark of interest. Second song Colourblind establishes a different vibe and changes the whole pitch and mood that originally enveloped the Apollo- perhaps the electronic element of this track is more accessible to first-time listeners to the band. Live, the bass in Stillwater has a prominent Korn feel to it, while Perspectives has a space-y building intro. It’s final song, Introduced Species though that stands way out for Hands Like Houses- the tumultuous drums keep it heavy, while simultaneously there’s legitimately more groove than you can shake a stick at.While Crown The Empire’s co-vocalist David Escamilla takes a hiatus from touring, Andy Velasquez takes on the vocal duties and absolutely kills it on his own. Choosing to start with some new material first, Are You Coming With Me has a massive woah-ohh chorus to get everyone on their toes. The Fallout has some ace power behind it, and it’s easy to tell from the reaction and the performance that this, despite its constant presence on the setlist, remains a live favourite from both a fan and a band perspective. These shows see some of the first times Crown The Empire’s new material has been played live, and this is clear by the reception to songs like Hologram; the reaction is by no means dead, but it is noticeably less feverish and this causes the momentum of the show to drop somewhat. What works though, is the absolute conviction the band deliver their new tracks with, that ensures positive vibes are construed to the crowd through the new music. During Machines, the vocals blend into the background and are slightly overtaken by the music, which makes for such a powerful closing track.Of Mice And Men are straight to business with Pain, a newer song that has an upbeat, punky edge to it, starting sharp like an instant punch to the face. Much less heavy is Feels Like Forever, to which frontman Austin Carlisle seems to find his feet a little as he moves along to the music in time with his audience. His gravelly vocals are at their best during this track; a song that plays to all his strengths. His face reflects the euphoria of the crowd as he stands atop his podium centre stage and hears his lyrics screamed back at him. As expected, Broken Generation kills it as always, with vocal assistance from bassist Aaron Pauley, who adds a mellower dynamic to Austin Carlisle’s harsh, guttural vocal work.It’s after Broken Generation, that proceedings begin to dwindle somewhat. Never Giving Up (which in its beginning sounds like a 21st century version of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box) drops the pace, and if tonight’s show were a metaphorical being, it would continue this way and be dragging its feet during next few songs. Throughout tracks like + and Relentless, the excitement and fervour has diminishes noticeably, replaced by an almost restless, disconnected atmosphere- whether it’s the tracks themselves or the performance of them, something is not quite hitting the spot. That is, until the band bring it back in the heaviest way possible, and after their falter, plunge right into the four conceptual tracks from their The Flood reissue. The Calm, The Storm, The Flood and The Depths retrospectively lull, brace, berate and punish; the latter two are particularly tempestuous and embody a kind of malice and anger that once can only assume Of Mice And Men expelled from their collective system during the earlier days. When the lights go down during The Flood and flash back up behind the band as the track drops, showcasing just silhouettes, it makes for a set-defining moment. Despite this tour being the first time the likes of The Calm and The Storm have been played live since 2014, any residual venom is mustered up here to make the execution of the heavier three tracks nothing less than flawless, and a complete set-saver. During the encore, the groove of You’re Not Alone gives the crowd a last chance to dance, while Second and Sebring reintroduces the fervour for the last time tonight as the song starts to kick in.
Taking a look around the half-empty standing area, it’s possible that Of Mice And Men perhaps may not be quite ready to headline venues of this size in the UK just yet; in front of these audiences, their music is more welcomed while squashed in front of a smaller stage, in a venue compact enough that sweat still drips from the walls. This is not to say that OM&M don’t pack a punch- judging by the performance of the four reissue tracks alone, this band is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Photos by Erin Moore at Forte Photography UK