Having last seen The Futureheads whilst they were supporting Biffy Clyro on a frenetic tour in 2010, I was more than a little anxious to see how these four undoubtedly talented guys from Sunderland would fare with a laid back, stripped down acoustic set. Turns out it wasn’t laid back or stripped down in any way, shape or form. Banjos, mandolins, cellos and a piano all get an airing and the set (or indeed the whole tour) is something not many bands today could pull off. I for one certainly can’t imagine The Enemy or The Cribs producing an a cappella album of cover versions and old hits and then subsequently touring it around the country.
Before The Futureheads get to prove their mettle though, it’s down to The Cornshed Sisters to open up proceedings. Theirs can only be described as an absolutely lovely sound. Four pretty young women with acoustic guitars were never going to come out and melt the crowd’s faces off with blistering punk anthems but they certainly captivate nonetheless. They’ve got the voices to match too and it’s a very gospel tinted performance with more than a sprinkling of delightfully protest-y folk. As a whole package it’s great and the four emotive voices make for very easy listening. With a great new album ’Tell Tales’ hitting the shelves they really are going through a purple patch at the minute and they’re definitely an act I’d like to see some more of.
And so to The Futureheads, who have readily admitted that despite their best hopes, the new a cappella album ’Rant’ was a big risk. On tonight’s evidence it was a risk worth taking because the sell-out crowd at the Wardrobe lap it up from start to finish. When a band is robbed of the chance to hide behind a wall of amps, effects and flashing lights it’s a real acid test of how accomplished they are as musicians and it’s a test they pass with flying colours as they give a little bit of everything – old hits, obscure shanties and a few exceptional cover versions including an outrageously good rendition of ‘Meet Me Halfway’ by The Black Eyed Peas.
It doesn’t often happen with bands but tonight really belongs to the bass player, Barry Hyde. Jumping seamlessly from cello to piano and back again, it’s clear that he’s got many strings to his bow, if you’ll pardon the pun. While he goes (not so quietly) about his musical business, it’s down to lead singer and guitarist Ross Millard to keep things flowing with boundless energy and seemingly effortless banter with the crowd. It’s almost like the shackles have come off with the release of the new album and tour and he’s definitely on top form tonight, not just vocally. He even has the gall to send two particularly chatty women from the front row right to the back, and to the relief of everyone in the room they duly accept and shuffle away.
Particular highlights of the set included ‘News and Tributes’ which was the title track of their second album which is given a re-working here and also the aforementioned Black Eyed Peas cover version which goes down a treat. It was released last month as a teaser for the new album and it’s a delight. Whether or not Will. I. Am or Fergie would see it that way is anybody’s guess but that certainly doesn’t matter at the Wardrobe tonight.
Finally, what gig would be complete without the support band joining the headliner and a bass player conducting a two-band, eight-person shanty of harmonies? Another remarkable highlight from a night that is very, very refreshing..