Set It Off @ Manchester Academy 3, 16.04.19 / Louder Live
Usually, searching for bright blue hair in amongst a crowd would be a relatively easy task, in amongst the usual varied shades of brown, blonde and black. However, when Floridian pop rockers Set It Off are in town, that task becomes distinctly more difficult, as an entire throng of excitable, blue-haired fans clustered around the entrance to Manchester’s Academy 3! The cause of this blue revolution is the band’s latest album, ‘Midnight’, their first since 2016’s ‘Upside Down’, which saw their global fanbase surge almost overnight and piqued the interest of many in the lighter side of the rock sphere. As well as a homogenous commitment to a particular hue, ‘Midnight’ has also brought with it a plethora of upbeat, danceable tunes with swinging choruses and just a hint of self-assured bite that has made it the band’s biggest release to date, and birthed an entirely sold out tour across the pond, for which expectations were already running very high indeed.
Fans of Broadside and Roam will have another band to bolster their musical arsenal in the form of openers Bearings. Their sunny disposition and amiable stage presence was in polar opposition to the chilly temperatures in their home country of Canada- indeed, many of their tracks would not feel out of place as the soundtrack to a blisteringly hot California summer, with their bright guitar tones and infectiously bouncy choruses. The highlight of the set, however, was undeniably ‘Tides’, with its warm acoustic guitar tones that were bolstered by the pulsing drums, over which lay the heart-warmingly affectionate lyrics that were a dedication to the vocalist’s girlfriend and a joyous celebration of the enduring power of love itself.
Bringing in their idiosyncratic burst of riotous colour, sound, and energy were the night’s next offering, Scottish duo Vukovi. Despite frontwoman Janine claiming to be distinctly under the weather, the blisteringly fierce alt-rock party vibes that we have come to expect from Vukovi never wavered. Standing tall- in her words ‘like Moses!’- in the middle of the crowd, the waves of raucous, invigorating energy pulsated through the crowd, particularly with the introduction of latest single ‘C.L.A.U.D.I.A’, which brought a storm of rippling synths hailing down on the crowd, and the deep groove of the bassline on ‘Animal’ had hips swinging and hair flicking in incisive, devil-may-care fashion.
The temperature in the tiny, black-walled room rose to near that of a furnace as the minutes ticked by in a haze of distorted audio and shivering smoke, before all that was shattered in a burst of colour and sound as Set It Off took to the stage, plunging headfirst into their huge, whirling party single, ‘Lonely Dance’. As the opening track’s title suggests, unbridled dancing was the theme of the evening, and the new tracks from ‘Midnight’ lent themselves incomparably to this. The poppier overtones of ‘Killer in the Mirror’ came to the fore in the gently rising titular lyrics in the chorus, while the darker, grunge tinged fringes on ‘Dancing with the Devil’ were balanced with frontman Cody Carson’s smirkingly cocksure demeanour, making it the perfect dark pop chorale. Despite their seemingly untroubled commitment to uninhibited enjoyment, there also lay a deeper shade to these effervescent pop rock tracks- the themes of anxiety, self-doubt and pain laced their way through the revelling rhythms like a subtle poison- unnoticed by some, yet incredibly potent to those for who can attune to those richer layers of feeling.
It was that combination of vulnerable, candid lyrics and irresistibly buoyant melodies that endeared the band so powerfully to the packed-out room, even those who began the evening with a somewhat sceptical preconception- nobody was left untouched by the burning desire to dance! Summery and light, ‘Uncontainable’, taken from the band’s sophomore album ‘Duality’, rippled and dazzled through each fist-pumping pre-chorus, while ‘Hypnotized’ shot like a dart through the room, dripping in unctuous venom and white-hot disdain. In an attempt to pack as many tracks into their set as possible, the band raced through a medley of some of their most recognisable tunes: the sultry groove of ‘Miss Mysterious’ flowed into the bittersweet wrenching guitars of ‘Swan Song’; through to the pitching lilt of ‘Ancient History’, rounding out with ‘Forever Stuck in Our Youth’ as an impressive, grandiose flourish.
Despite the undeniable appeal of Set It Off’s unceremonious demeanour, the truly memorable moments of the show came with the most candid exposure of their deep-seated vulnerability. And no song could encapsulate this more greatly than ‘Unopened Windows’: a deeply personal tribute to, and celebration of, frontman Cody’s father’s life. Woven around the melody of Eva Cassidy’s ‘Danny Boy’, the delicate piano notes pierced the silent air with the brightness of stars, a slight catch in his vocals as Cody gazed out, awestruck, at the poignancy of the emotional response elicited in the crowd, many of whom were reduced to silent, wracking sobs. Nobody seemed to want to take a breath, as the melody shivered on the air, delicate and temporary, yet unforgettably beautiful- a perfect tribute in every way. And once the last, blistering notes of ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ had faded into the sweat-filled haze, and the night was at a close, the look in the eyes of each of the band’s members was one of awe and admiration, not only for the music and community that they had created, but for the unforgettable moments that they and their fans had created as one.
Set It Off's latest album, 'Midnight', is out now via Fearless Records.
Check out the video for the band's latest single, 'Dancing with the Devil', below:
Set It Off still have several dates left to play across Europe- dates can be found below: