13th May 2015
I won’t lie: I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl tonight. So giddy in fact I’m almost skipping down the stairs in the Soup Kitchen. I’m here to see Oceansize sorry, Vennart. Who are three fifths of Oceansize, Manchester’s very own progressive death indie outfit who tragically split in 2011, leaving fans utterly devastated and inconsolable. Anyway, it’s in the past and I’m completely over it.
A year before their split, frontman Mike Vennart had been recruited by old friends Biffy Clyro as an additional guitarist for their live shows, playing to scores of fans in arenas across the globe. A feat Oceansize only glimpsed upon when they supported Smashing Pumpkins on their UK arena tour in 2008. Tonight, he returns to the stage under the moniker of his surname, to bring his solo debut album The Demon Joke to life. Ranked with former ‘size members Steve Durose (guitar), Richard Ingram AKA Gambler on ‘a whole lot of shit’ (mainly bass, with synths and guitar). Completing the line-up is the excellent Dean ‘Denzel’ Pearson on drums.
The intro to the opening song is a gentle and atmospheric swirling of guitars, a rally of cymbals builds to a crescendo that eventually drowns out the rest of the band and then Denzel blows the crowd’s heads off with a huge, driving riff. I realise that I’m going to regret neglecting to bring my earplugs.
A few songs into the set Mike speaks to the crowd for the first time, stating that ‘We’ll play some songs you know and others that you won’t’. Then taking the crowd by surprise, they begin Oceansize classic ‘Music for a Nurse’ – the opening notes of which provoke a gasp from the entire room. As if they weren’t going to play any of the old songs, come on! I secretly uncross my fingers.
The Demon Joke isn’t out until June and there are only two songs available to download, neither of which they have played yet, so I’m thankful when Mike announces the next song ‘Retaliate’. I understand why he’s made the crowd aware of the title 30 seconds in; it’s the best song from the album. Steve swaps to bass for this song and plays the stomping riff that drives the song. Biffy Clyro’s ability to write stadium songs with big choruses seems to have rubbed off as Mike’s vocals during the chorus are catchy, melodic and explosive. I believe he’s due much more credit as a singer.
The set moves along with great pace and after they finish with single ‘Operate’, probably the catchiest song Mike has written, they depart promising to return ‘if you ask us very nicely’. A group of gruff-sounding men oblige from the corner of the room with a deep ‘Pleeeeeease!’ The band returns to the stage, Mike thanks the crowd and the band members for bringing his solo effort to life. He also remarks how glad he is that tonight’s gig is the last of the tour and not the first, as it was originally planned to be, because otherwise he would have ‘shat himself’. They encore with two Oceansize epics ‘The Frame’ from 2007 album Frames and ‘Part Cardiac’ from their 2011 album Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. Throughout the set the band has remained relatively subdued or rather lost in the music, but now they are four men released from chains.
In a way I’m pleased that the most Oceansize-sounding song of the night is, in fact, an Oceansize song. During ‘The Frame’ a song about family, I feel like this could be a poignant moment as Mike sings ‘Time won’t change a thing…’ standing on stage with his musical family of old, in this respect time hasn’t changed. However, Vennart has moved away from the proggy templates that ‘size were famous for and produced some prospective guitar anthems with more direct song writing and actual choruses that have the potential, in the future, to have audiences singing back. The new record certainly has a sense of optimism about it and I’m left thinking that this could be the start of something huge.
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