Glass Animals // Manchester Academy 2 // 26.10.16
Gigs usually open with one of the band’s best or most recognisable tunes, but the peculiar Glass Animals, of course, chose to make an entrance by blitzing through the 36-second spoken-word stanza ‘Premade Sandwiches’. Before the crowd could recover from the delightful shock, we were swept up into the pounding folk drumbeat of ‘Life Itself’ and the tender but equally energetic ‘Youth’. The glistening sounds and fierce vibrancy of their sophomore album How To Be A Human Being were perfectly complemented by the oozing sinuousness of debut LP Zaba, which had people shaking and snaking their bodies, with wrists twirling in their air to the smooth groove of ‘Hazey’ and ‘Black Mambo’. Onstage, frontman Dave Bayley danced marvellously, hitting the beats with angular shapes and abandon.
Musical interludes were fresh and varied, from sparse, ambient introductions for quieter numbers to rockist guitar solos, showcasing their wide palette of coloured sound. Despite the band’s extensive sampling and electronic sounds, never once did they rely on a backing track – everything was live and alive in function. Tentative synths eventually led into the opening lyrics of ‘Gooey’, and the collective thrill at its familiarity was palpable. This rendition was heavier and harder-edged than the single’s cooing roundedness on the album, which was not to my preference, but it demonstrated the band’s inventiveness and ability as live performers. Zaba’s lesser-known songs, though no less enjoyable, were perhaps harder to sing along and respond to, with the many of the lyrics being a tangle of nonsense poetry.
I’d like to think that the lines of How To Be A Human Being work differently, each song weaving a profound real-life narrative that when chorused by the euphoric throng evoked a wild pathos. Mostly centred around one character’s affection for another, the stories of the songs are complex, often fraught with distress and helplessness that belie their glitter. Perhaps this is difficult to grasp fully without reading the lyrics, and some of it is very deep and dark – “It hits my head and I feel numb/my body’s looking wrong” on ‘This Side of Paradise’ are the thoughts of a basketball superstar’s lover as she kills herself. It’s an idealistic thought, but I do believe that the act of singing drew us closer to these other lives. Being a part of that collective emotional experience, one person in the multitude singing together, surging to the same beat – this alone felt like magic, a celebration of human connectedness and life itself.
Glass Animals saved two of their most popular songs for last: ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ had everyone singing to its cutesy video-game hooks and nearly all of its lines, especially relishing “My girl eats mayonnaise/from a jar when she’s getting blazed.” There were calls for ‘Pork Soda’ right after, and what a stunning performance this one was. Beginning by whipping up a handclap rhythm in the audience (nicely corresponding to the setting of the song in city streets), Dave raised a pineapple above his head to the refrain “Pineapples are in my head/got nobody cause I’m brain dead”. An instrumental outro with a brilliant keyboard part repeatedly built up to several false climaxes, before giving the last one everything it had. This artful, gloriously manic finish alone made their somewhat short set forgivable, and we left a little dizzy from it all.
Photo by Jon Stone.