Ever since the release of Joyce Manor’s latest record Cody in October last year, it had been the question on people’s lips – when were they going to come over and play in the UK? Okay, this might be a slight exaggeration. The situation didn’t quite reach It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-esque Carole conspiracy levels of fever pitch, but it definitely felt like there was an air of anticipation of when the California four-piece would come and play.
So you can imagine the frantic sound of typing when the band announced they would be playing the UK in July, bringing Durham’s DIY stalwarts Martha with them. And, on a warm Friday night at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club, an expectant, sold-out crowd rolled through the doors. Could both bands live up to the hype surrounding the tour? The short answer is hell yes.
Where to start with Martha? Anybody who has listened to their two albums, 2014’s Courting Strong and last year’s Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart, will be aware of the band’s pedigree for writing blistering melodic pop-punk. Tonight the Durham four-piece plough through a healthy chunk from both records, from opener Christine to debut album highlights Bubble In My Bloodstream and 1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely, and they do so with visible and infectious energy and joy. It is a set that shows Martha are masters of the craft, a band at the top of their game who have a solid enough repertoire to blast through earworm after earworm.
But there is so much more to Martha’s set to what the band are actually playing – a strange statement to make in a gig review, I know. As Jimmy Cleveland quietly strums the opening chords of Ice Cream and Sunscreen and sings the opening lyrics, the whole crowd seem to bellow every word in unison and this is the same for pretty much all of their set neatly summing up why Martha’s set is so special Martha, on record, are a band that make you feel like you aren’t the one who feels this way in a very personal, one-to-one way. Live, however, the songs become breathtaking, heat-swelling odes of unity, action and hope for a different way of living. All the emotions invested released in a community outpouring, and this is truly the case tonight.
Taking to the stage, Joyce Manor waste no time in feeding off the energy that Martha has created in the main room of the Brudenell Social Club, kicking things off with Never Hungover Again highlight Heart Tattoo, quickly followed by Fake ID and Eighteen, highlights from their most recent release. Tonight, Joyce Manor feel like seasoned veterans without any of the cynism and loss of vigour that comes with the title, something that is not easy to carry off. Indeed, the band seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves, and the whole set has a feel of carefree abandonment to it.
“Orange Julius?” asks lead singer Barry Johnson, responding to a request from the audience “Yeah, okay” and the band burst into life with the opening chords of the song. How often do you see that happen? It shows that not only are Joyce Manor are capable of electrifying, engaging set, they understand the beauty of live music – the connection between artist and audience, the reciprocal give and take of community that blossoms into something beautiful when allowed space. It’s no surprise that this is on display considering Joyce Manor’s background, but it’s a wonderful thing to witness.
Hyperbole is often the death of a good review, but with certain things, you can’t throw enough praise at it. Joyce Manor and Martha at the Brudenell Social Club is one of those things. When looking back at all the gigs I’ve been to, this will be one of those that stands out – one of those “were you there?” moments. Joyce Manor and Martha, take a bow, not only one of the best gigs I’ve been to this year but one of the best I’ve ever been to.