Live Review: Amongst Liars/Theory of a Deadman, Ritz, Manchester – 26/09/23

Written by: NICK ASHTON

Photos by: NICK ASHTON

Amongst Liars have forged a reputation on the modern rock scene for coruscating lyrics and angry, edgy live performances. They are not a band to shy away from socio-political issues, and one listen to their 2022 self-titled debut album will leave you in no doubt on which side of the fence they sit. But fear not, the Liars do not deal in Billy Bragg-inspired folk songs. They have serious rock credentials and know how to combine heavy riffs with catchy choruses, so I was really looking forward to seeing them let loose on a bigger stage in front of a 1500 strong crowd. The band had worked with a sound engineer before the tour to make sure that the sonics were matched to a larger space, and that effort paid off because they sounded and looked like headliners.

Tension mounted in the room as the droning blare that heralds the start of opening number Black Days began to throb out from the PA. Unfortunately there was a technical glitch with guitarist Leo Burdett’s pedal board at the very outset; but this was quickly fixed and we were off on the start of a wild ride for the next 30 minutes. This initial loss of momentum could have thrown a lesser band, but not so Amongst Liars as they quickly recovered and whipped up the energy levels in the room led by vocalist Ian George’s biting attack on the current government’s many failings. This is what modern day protest music sounds like and it is pissed off big time!

Two new songs from upcoming album number 2, Design, follow in quick succession: Ready For This? and latest single, The Shameful.  The latter has been out for around a month now and represents a step up in sonics with the arrival of keyboardist James Brum. Lyrically, Ian remains as angry as ever, spitting out ‘talk is cheap, anyway’ in the chorus’ refrain. Leo picks out a riff that sounds like a wasp that has been trapped in a bottle and is looking to sting the first person it comes across, while Ross Towner (bass) and Adam Oarton (drums) provide the driving rhythm at the heart of the song. The Liars are pulling no punches and are clearly set on giving the headliners a run for their money.

The mood changes for the reflective Drown, which sees Ian on acoustic guitar complementing the tasteful melody of Leo’s more restrained electric on this introspective yet powerful song. The lyrics address how it feels to be sinking into the darkness and drowning in a sea of helplessness when depression takes hold. There is genuine anguish here which speaks to everyone who has suffered in a similar situation. Then the pace reverts once more and the focus of righteous indignation changes as Burn The Vision blasts the propaganda spewed out by politicians and partisan media outlets over a suitably edgy and driving riff. Even if politics is not your thing, you can’t help being caught up in the passion of the music and the sheer fury of the performance.

Into the closing straight now, and another new song in the form of By Design which again shows that the next album is going to be a must have for any lover of cutting-edge modern rock music. A catchy, riffy chorus that is sure to become another live favourite. Speaking of which, the set closes with an incendiary version of Wolf Machine which takes the energy levels even higher, if that’s possible after 30 intense minutes of blistering rage. Many in the audience may not have heard of Amongst Liars before tonight’s gig, but judging by the very long queue for merch afterwards they made a lot of new friends.

Headliners Theory of a Deadman have a large and loyal following in the UK. They’ve been filling 1500-2000 capacity venues on this series of dates – indeed tonight’s show was moved to the larger Ritz due to demand for tickets. Everyone knows what to expect and Theory deliver the goods in the form of a slick and polished set of crowd friendly rock anthems. This is my first experience of TOAD and I’m struck by their similarity with fellow Canadians Nickelback. The songs are crafted to push the right buttons and balance pop sensibilities with just enough riffage to get your head nodding. Opening with the title track of their latest album, Dinosaur, the crowd are soon enthralled and loving every minute. The focus is clearly on frontman and guitarist Tyler Connolly, who draws the brunt of attention while Dave Brenner (guitar) and Dean Back (bass) tend to step back from the limelight and get on with the job at hand. The lyrics for Bitch Came Back might be a long way from being PC, but it is certainly catchy and has a memorable chorus, as does Two Of Us (Suck) which is similarly bitter but hooky at the same time.

There is a change of pace and focus as Connolly takes centre stage and the spotlight at the piano for a few songs, before the rest of the band return and the riffs are amped up again. There’s even a diversion into urban beats with Ambulance which I’m not entirely sure works, but again is well-received. There are a surprising number of covers, or snippets of covers in the set, including Wonderwall and Paradise City: given the size of their own back catalogue I wonder why the band elected to throw this material in but it does go down well. As the set comes to a conclusion, the biggest hitters in the form of Bad Girlfriend and Rx (Medicate) are rolled out and I am struck by the contrasts between the two bands tonight. Amongst Liars are passionate, angry and edgy whereas Theory of a Deadman are polished performers delivering slick radio friendly rock for the masses. I have to say that my preference is for the former.

Amongst Liars

Theory of a Deadman
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