As It Is- Manchester Academy 3, 13.11.19 / Louder Live
Despite the usual flurry of excitable reunions that always grace the beginning of As It Is’ show days, the knowledge that for one founding member this would be their last hurrah hung heavy on the air from the off. The ‘Ben Today, Gone Tomorrow’ tour follows an album cycle that has been about as demanding as they come, with tours across the UK, Europe, the USA, and beyond running almost consecutively since the release of their latest record, ‘The Great Depression’, eighteen months ago. Taking on the most intimate venues the band have played on UK shores for some time, the tour would be the end of the cycle for the band, and the end of his time in the band for guitarist and founding member, Ben Langford-Biss. A celebration and commiseration in equal measure, Ben’s departure was a blow to many fans who have followed his inventive guitar ministrations (and outspoken Twitter hi-jinks!) since the band’s inception: however, it was a brilliant excuse to have one last headbang with Ben and his glorious locks joining the band onstage- and a party is something As It Is, and their fanbase, will never turn down!
Never one to leave a loose end un-tied, Ben elected to include the entirety of ‘The Great Depression’, on the setlist for his final shows- including, most poignantly, ‘The Hurt, the Hope’, which hadn’t made a live appearance before this run. The centre of the crowd sank slowly to the floor as Patty took the stage alone, acoustic guitar in hand, each heart-wrenching note made all the more resonant by the knowledge that one of the track’s key authors was soon to be leaving the fold. Lyrically too, it was the perfect tribute: the echoing ‘We all want to be at peace’ slowly folding like warm treacle into the closing refrain ‘It’s got to get better’. For avid fans of the band, Ben’s absence from the As It Is line-up will be something of an adjustment after so many years, but the chance for him to be, in Patty’s words, ‘a happier and healthier human being’ is no less than he deserves after delivering rousing choruses and life-affirming lyrics to crowds the world over for over half a decade.
Not that the atmosphere in the room was at all funereal- on the contrary, it was the most raucous farewell party one could have asked for! Channelling all the melodrama of early 00s emo with their characteristic pop punk vigour, the band tore the packed-out crowd in two with opener, ‘The Great Depression’- the surging mosh pit yawning wide open, and never ceasing to swirl for the remainder of the night! From the low-slung groove of ‘The Fire, The Dark’, to the scything ‘The Handwritten Letter’; and the utterly heart-shattering ‘The Truth I’ll Never Tell’, each track blended fist-pumping chorus lines with lyrics drawn from the blackest of minds, that brought both tears and screams from the audience crammed into every corner of the sold-out venue!
Frontman Patty Walters was utterly captivating- he swung his mic around the stage and his neck with wild abandon, leaping into the air and plummeting to the floor- when he wasn’t leaning into the crowd, holding the gaze of every face in the room. The synergy between the latter half of their sophomore LP, ‘Okay.’, and their current visual and musical aesthetic was evidenced in ‘No Way Out’, with its venomous spoken-word section, and in the darkly bubbling crescendo that is ‘Soap’. As It Is have been building towards this moment for several years, and they are now a band full realised and utterly confident in both their personal and musical identities.
Yet there were moments of tender emotion sprinkled throughout the set alongside the floor-shaking anthems. The most delicately tender moment should have come along with ‘The Question, The Answer’, which, on record is one of the most bittersweet moments of internal conflict on the entire album. However, the band opted to play the version of the track taken from their ‘Reimaged’ series of EPs, which turned the soft acoustic number into a brittle, post-hardcore rager. A fierce opportunity for hardcore-dancing it may have been, but it was impossible to feel as though the true sentiment at the heart of the lyrics was buried beneath the thrashing guitars and pounding drums. On the other hand, a finer balance was struck in other areas. ‘Austen’ made a welcome return to the set- a touching tribute to Ben’s grandfather; as did romantic ballad ‘Winter’s Weather’; and, for those who have followed As It Is since almost their earliest days, rare treat in the form of ‘Turn Back to Me’, these days a relic from the band’s first full-length, ‘Never Happy, Ever After’, which was greeted by a cluster of waving hands and strained lungs- an emotional reminder of just how far As It Is have come!
Surprisingly, historical closer ‘Dial Tones’ had initially been bumped from the setlist in favour of a wild-card track each night. However, after a brief pause of an encore, the band returned to the stage – hailed by chants of ‘Thank you Ben!’ which couldn’t help make you misty-eyed – and resurrected ‘the one that started it all’, in the same city where it had its first premiere years earlier, to a huge reception! Crowdsurfing had been the theme of the evening, but now it reached a fever pitch with wave after wave of limbs crashing and flailing overhead! Every note from then onwards brought greater and greater thrill- and it was only at the closing moments of their landmark single ‘The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)’, when the instruments faded a little and the crowd’s voices rose up to fill the void, that the excitement came crashing down, and the mingled pride and sadness in the band’s eyes was reflected in those of the crowd.
Drawing out his final moments with this fiercely loyal crowd, Ben stopped to talk to and take pictures with the crowd that remained clinging to the barrier, eventually dragging himself away, followed by shouts of love, support and thanks. It was a family affair through and through, and though one of our number was leaving the stage for the final time, experiencing shows like that will leave its mark upon your memory, no matter how far you may wander.
As It Is' latest album, 'The Great Depression', is out now via Fearless Records.
Check out the video for 'The Stigma (Boys Don't Cry)', below:
As It Is are playing a run of shows in Australia in February- dates and the link for tickets can be found here.