As I alluded to in my previous post November has seen me try to make up for the lack of gigs I had in the middle of the year. A mere two days after seeing Kacey bedazzle the Albert Hall I had returned for a really big show for me personally: my first ever Maximo Park gig, with them playing A Certain Trigger in full for its 10th birthday to boot!
I don't quite know how I'd not seen Maximo until now. I'd lost touch with them a little bit, coming upon their past couple of albums rather late but they remain one of my all time favourite acts. In particular, amongst a few other personal connections I feel towards the band, playing A Certain Trigger on repeat played a big part in keeping me sane during my GCSEs. So to hear them dust it off in its entirety at this cut price show (£20 face value per ticket! That's getting rarer and rarer for established acts these days sadly) was music to my ears.
Before we got to the birthday... boy? Record? Anyway, before the focus of the night's celebrations got its outing, we were treated to a short set of hits and rarities. Opening with the ecstatic "Girls Who Play Guitars" (a song I was elated to see appear on the Rock Band store way back when, prompting me and my mate play the shit out of it), songs spanning the band's entire existence were covered.
In addition to the opener, several tracks from sophomore album Our Earthly Pleasures made an appearance. Most obviously "Our Velocity" was included, and really how can it be excluded from ANY Maximo Park set? It's very rare to find a song that begins with such a break neck sugar rush and is somehow able to COUNTINUE to build and build and reach such a joyous climax. How that song didn't get to number one I'll never know.
Also played, much to my delight was "Russian Literature" in what was a home coming of sorts with the song being about writing trips lead singer Paul Smith used to make to Manchester Central Library. His post song patter covering the Transpennine Express reference got quite a hearty cheer. It's certainly my favourite song to reference such a crappy train service, the drive of the keys and drums creating a great sense of paranoia. It feels like a song fitting for a chase scene.
Speaking of Paul - what a tremendous front man he is! Scissor kicking, hip swaying, microphone stand whirling, skittish and energetic, he is an absolutely blistering performer. I always admire performers who maintain their dialect in their singing voices and Paul is no exception. That voice, as Geordie as Newcy Broon, not only adds to the depth of character the songs contain but also gives them an even greater sense of lyrical honesty.
Special mention should also go to keyboardist Lukas Wooller. When my mate saw we were stood in front of the bit of the stage with the keys he thought we'd be out of luck as far as crowd interaction goes. But, ignoring the fact that a mere keyboard isn't going to be a big enough obstacle to stop Paul saying hi to us, Lukas had a great energy about him too. Bobbing up and down, encouraging sing alongs and leading hand claps, he was terrific. Dude could use a Rock Band 3 style keytar instead.
This being a night to reflect on the earlier days of the band, we also saw a few rarities get an outing. First to show was one of my favourite B-sides of theirs (kids, ask your parents if you don't know what a B-side is) "A19". Its was a little curious to see it so close to "Girls Who Play Guitars" in the set what with it feeling like a blueprint for that song musically, but it was fantastic to hear it again nonetheless, particularly as it features one of my all time favourite Maximo Park lines: "My only aspirations were those held on an A4 print out." I just so happened to have picked up their rarities album Missing Songs years back when I was invited for interview at Oxford to go to uni there (for the knock down price of £3 too). It was the best thing to come from a bit of a miserable time there, and when they didn't offer me a place that line really stuck with me.
In addition we got to hear one of their "more Smiths-ey" songs "A Year Of Doubt". Lines like "You said you were speechless and God I wish you were" wouldn't sound too out of place coming from the mouth of a young Morrissey and the musical cues the song takes from the band sounded much more obvious now that Paul mentioned it. This in addition to "Russian Literature" felt like a really a nice way to pay homage to the heritage of the city hosting the band.
One minor quibble? Third album Quicken The Heart got slightly short shift. Only "The Kids Are Sick Again" got played. That record gives me lots of great memories of warm, summery feelings having finished my first year at university. I suppose warm and summery wouldn't have been appropriate for a luke-warm mid-winter Manchester night.
Closing the first set with "Books From Boxes", a short intermission ensued so that Paul could make a much appreciated costume change into time-period appropriate red and black before the familiar drums of "Signal And Sign" kick off our journey through A Certain Trigger.
Hearing all the songs in order in this live setting really highlighted for me the energy behind the record. Here is one of these rare instances where ever song sounds like a single. Of course, the likes of "Apply Some Pressure" and "Graffiti" in the opening flurry actually were singles and very successful ones. The latter was the song through which I discovered the band, the guitar play was enticing and what would become that unmistakable voice of Paul Smith, both sonically and lyrically, lead me to believe there was something great worth paying attention to. The former was an absolute pleasure to experience again with the layers on layers of vocals at its climax.
For the most part the band and Paul in particular really seemed to make a concerted effort to avoid affectations and aspects of their performance that worked their way into the songs over the years following the album's release, so a great deal of the time things would sound as close to the studio version of the album as possible. "I Want You To Stay" proved one exception, with Paul raising the volume in the second chorus (but perhaps only because his mind went blank on what the words were) and the guitars carrying a bit more bite to them as opposed to the gentler jingles of the original.
What felt like a neat little Easter Egg for long term fans came when Paul broke out his old "comfort blanket" in his little red lyric book for particularly wordy songs like "Once, A Glimpse" and "Acrobat". This cued a little missive about the awful job AZ Lyrics made of listing the lyrics to the former. "I don't think you're gonna get that early bed" indeed.
"Acrobat" was one of the songs I was most keen on hearing, somewhat reminiscent of "Belong" by R.E.M. with a monologue describing a relationship in a state of disrepair forming the basis of the song. With its sparse arrangements and reliance on the subtleties of Archis Tiku's bass guitar, it always felt to me like a key component in establishing the lyrical identity of the band. Whether it's covering the mundanities of being together with someone ("My foot nearly brushes your leg, I can't draw it away, I can't push it forward, it lies stranded, it belongs to someone else") or digressions on imagery ("The sky is often used as a metaphor, I suppose that's because it's so clear and expansive"), it was just as much a standout as the neat counting thread that flows through "The Night I Lost My Head" and the confessional "Going Missing".
Rounding off "the world's longest encore" with the sweet one-upmanship of "Kiss You Better" I was, much like "Going Missing", left wondering "Has midnight come too soon again?" The time warp was over, I was no longer 15 again, but that didn't exactly feel like a loss! I can only envy those who have tickets to the "by popular demand" reprise of the tour later in December, they are in for a treat, a true testament to Maximo's affection for their audience. With performances of this quality that affection will be returned in kind for a long time to come.