live review ~ 'real livewire' single launch ~ echo raptors, the couth & the sun shadows ~ the menagerie, belfast

With each passing release, Belfast's Echo Raptors have continued to grow. Capturing the full blown ferocity of early singles such as 'The Plastic People' and tying this in with a matured, fully formed wall of sound, it's clear in new single 'Real Live Wire' that this is a group with a greater understanding of who they are. The setting for this stomping new tracks release was in a personal favorite venue of this reporter, the retro-discotheque  that is Belfast's Menagerie. Setting the scene with a dance invoking mix of indies greatest alternative anthems (courtesy of DJ Rory Mackin) and a projection of live clips from the likes of The Rolling Stones beamed onto the walls, it would be the job of local lads The Sun Shadows to open the show...

The Sun Shadows attacked their set in the only way they know how. In a barrage of typical swagger and attitude. Vocalist Aaron Craig at times cuts a lonely figure at the microphone, surveying the scene and taking in each moment, before bursting to life in each tracks chorus. The art of the lone-singer is a difficult job, but one he seems to relish. The Shadows personal brand of psychedelia resonated with an audience in just the right mood, even if the early nature of their performance slot hindered their usual steadfast confidence somewhat. Inspiral Carpets styled 'My Best Friends Girl' saw the band overturn a potentially awkward technical malfunction, as they came out fighting in a floury of synth dominated riffs. As their set progressed, so too did their delivery, as the tight knit-unity of their usual pedigree returned in some style, particularly in final track 'Twisted Mistress'. Showing a classic 60's vibrancy, with a sing along groove and 'I Am The Resurrection' inspired jam session, it highlighted the true potential The Sun Shadows possess when they hit top gear. Given the chance, they will get their again.

Lisburn lads The Couth have came a long way. Their swirling brand of 'beach-boy, surf punk' has now crossed the boarder from beloved dance-inducing indie into a clearly defined sound, all of their own making. Songs like 'If You Go' and 'Down By The River' shimmer with heart-felt honesty and captivating melody (particularly the latter, written for 'anyone who's ever drank a carry out by a river'). The chemistry between brothers David and Matthew McCrum, both in harmony and stage presence, give The Couth an extra dimension. Be this through a natural shared charisma, or simple passion, it cannot be ignored and when combined with the incredible drumming of Kyle Irwin and Ryan Stanfield's tantalizing riffs, it makes for a powerful outfit indeed. The transition from old single 'Cycles' to new single 'Bloodbreaker' was both seamless and unexpected, showcasing brilliantly this bands evolution to what is surly a very big future.  

As the crowd grew restless and the excitement grew, it became clear that this night would belong to it's headliners, and so it proved as Echo Raptors delivered another memorable performance. Opening with a brand new single can be a most precarious decision, not so tonight however, as 'Real Livewire's ability to exhilarate an audience more than justified the entire evening on it's own. Frontman Phil Rainey was in fine form all evening, stalking the stage with the purposeful stride of Ian Brown in his prime, while Vince Caddell proved he's elevated his lead guitarist role to become an established backing vocalist in his own right, never missing a single harmony or riff for that matter! 'Change My Way' is a song introduced by the band on many occasions as 'a future number one hit single'. Not so tonight, but that was because there was no need to state the blindingly obvious, as every member of the crowd turned to acknowledge what is simply a stroke of genius. While many bands would ride off the wave of brilliance of a track like this, Echo Raptors instead confined it to the middle of their set - allowing songs like 'She's So Free', 'Timebomb' and the awesome new 'Backseat' (the other half of Livewire's 'double a-side' status) with it's punchy breakdown and trippy lead guitar riff, to stand on their own. 'Backseat' may also showcase some of Rainey's best lyrical work to date, as fists from the audience raised to sing 'Nothing is wasted! Nothing is lost!' back at the band. It was the finale however, that really stole the show, as 'Feel It In Your Heart' cascaded through the venue to it's dizzying conclusion, as Rainey ditched his guitar for the psychedelic climax this gig deserved.

It takes a truly memorable performance to unite a room full of strangers to 'arms round eachother' singalong raptures, and that's just what Echo Raptors produced. A fantastic night.

Taylor Johnson

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