You're better off with 'A'

The last time I saw 'A' in Manchester they packed out the main Academy on the Inner City Sumo tour. They were at their peak then, on the back of hit single 'Starbucks' and the huge 'Hi-Fi Serious' album. Tonight we find them gracing the much smaller Academy 3 and if they harboured any fears that the long break might have lessened enthusiasm for them they needn't have worried, as this gig sold out before many people even knew they were playing!

Three years on and many of those fans at the last tour have grown up and moved on but then, so have 'A'. Opinion is divided over whether the newer material matches the highs of the old, but the fact remains that when it comes to playing live 'A' are a class act.

Due to incorrect stage times being posted quite a few people miss the opening salvo of new single 'Rush Song'. This is unfortunate as hearing newer material played live can often sway the doubters amongst the older fans. No matter though, as we arrive in time to hear the crunching riffs of 'Nothing', a timely reminder of what 'A' do best, namely delivering massive riffs with catchy choruses. This is followed by 'Something's Going On', which is a better song live than on record but still deserved a higher chart placing that it achieved. The band are getting into the swing of things now, no doubt helped by the close proximity of the crowd who sing along and clearly relish this opportunity to see 'A' in such a small venue.

Another new track is aired in 'The Art of Making Sense' and although it continues the familiar 'A' styling, I'm not convinced it stands up alongside the classics, but this is the first listen so perhaps time will prove otherwise. Of the other new tracks tonight the best is 'Second Coming' although the next single is 'Better Off With Him', instantly more accessible but perhaps pandering a little too much to the commercial pop/punk side?

For those yet to be convinced about the new material, there is plenty of older stuff played (as always) and they don't come much better than 'Foghorn'. This really has stood the test of time and is 'A' at their best, fast and furious with a killer chorus and a tune to die for. Predictably the crowd go ape! 'Going Down' and 'Old Folks' initiate similar response and sound as good as they ever did. JP once again proves what a great frontman he is, interacting with the crowd at every opportunity and exuding the energy, charm and charisma that make 'A' a great band to watch.

One of the highlights of the set is old favourite 'I (Heart) Lake Tahoe', the lights go down in the middle and the crowd is left to sing the chorus on their own for a while, during which JP berates them for not singing in time (much to everyone's amusement) before the band launch back in. It's all good fun- and fun is definitely part of the appeal of 'A', sure they take the music seriously (and rightly so) but they've never been afraid to poke fun at themselves or anyone else in the immediate vicinity. It's a welcome change from the posturing and posing that we get from so many other bands these days.

The last track before the encore is their biggest single to date 'Starbucks' and predictably it goes down a storm. The encore tonight really seals the deal with a trio of classics, starting with 'Winter Of 96', which is great to hear, as is 'If It Aint Broke'. There's only one song they could possibly finish with and sure enough they duly oblige with a truly rip roaring version of 'Monkey Kong'. This has one of the greatest riffs I've heard in many a year and never fails to get the crowd moving into overdrive. An excellent end to a damn fine evening and a thoroughly entertaining gig.

Judging from the reaction to 'Rush Song' so far, a number of sold out gigs and having heard some of the new album, it looks as though 'A' are going to go from strength to strength. If you weren't lucky enough to get a ticket for this tour then fear not as there is another UK tour planned for October. With the new album imminent though, I'd advise buying early!

Set List:

Rush Song
Something's Going On
The Art of Making Sense
Going Down / Springs
Old Folks
Better Off With Him
Good Time
I (Heart) Lake Tahoe
Second Coming
Pacific Ocean Blue
The Distance

Winter Of 96
If It Aint Broke
Monkey Kong