LG Arena, Birmingham
By Glenn Rossington
Snow Patrol have morphed into one of those ‘marmite’ bands over the last few years. It really has become a case of you either love them or hate them. For me, I love them. Back in 1999 I came across Snow Patrol supporting a ‘then unheard of’ band called Travis, playing in a 2/3 full Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton. They had a dynamic I had not experienced before, they were loud, they were brash, they had a dj playing in the background (early tracks such as ‘Get Balsamic Vinegar, Quick You Fool‘ and ‘A Hundred Things You Should Have Done In Bed…‘ really benefited from having him there). I became very into them but as soon as ‘The Final Straw‘ thrust the band forward into the public domain, I felt I had lost my special band. In a sense I did because they have never recaptured that raw edgy sound of the early gigs.
Fast forward to 2009, and in a field at Weston Park for the V Festival, I catch the very end of their set and suddenly it reminds me of why I fell in love with them in the first place. Their live sound has always been far superior to the record, and the interaction with the crowd is always joyous. Tonight as the lights fade down and the crowd roars, I get that sudden rush all over again. As the remixed version of ‘Berlin‘ pounds out and the video screen sees the word ‘Birmingham‘ fly around a giant sphere in a similar style to the beginning of the old cartoon ‘Bananaman‘, you get the impression something special is about to happen.
The band saunter on stage casually awaiting the arrival of their leader, Gary Lightbody. He walks on with his trademark massive grin and within seconds, we see the lights change and he is in ‘the zone’. The strains of latest album opener ‘I’ll Never Let Go‘ wind up and we are off. The track is emotional, recalling almost a lost ‘Madchester‘ feel to it, confirmed by the additional vocals of songstress Miriam Kaufmann giving it that edge. This segue’s into ‘Take Back The City‘ which is loud and sounds fresher than ever. Lightbody is on the electric guitar and starts to lose himself like the old days. It’s great to see someone of his stature still so relaxed and at one with the music. Continuing the loud theme ‘Hands Open‘ strides up after a few welcoming words from Lightbody. The track sees him prowling around the stage recalling moments from early Verve performances. He’s getting this act down to a fine tee. Standing on the very edge of the stage, you wonder if he’ll jump down to greet his baying audience, but alas not, they are denied the opportunity tonight.
As the set grows with a few newer tracks, the first sing-a-long comes early. Fifty in is the seminal ‘Run‘ which has the whole 13,000 fans singing the words back to them. This is where you start to see the appreciation in the band’s eyes and realise just how magical they’ve become. ‘Crack The Shutters‘ and ‘In The End‘ fire up next, again ensuing mass sing-a-longs. The musicianship between the band is evolving right before us, we see them on the stage becoming closer, the little smiles and winks at each other show that they are no longer just a band, but a ‘family’. They have grown a lot since I last saw them properly in 2004.
We get a very tender moment next as Miriam Kaufmann is welcomed back on to the stage but this time to join Gary on the lead mic. Her vocals on ‘Set Fire To The Third Bar‘ to my ears anyway, actually sound stronger and more suited to him than Martha Wainwright’s ever did. Although I never saw them once ‘the fame had got them’, I was aware of the singles and the odd album track mainly because you could not escape them! The singles and tracks from that period certainly sound more engaging than on record, and this harks back to my comment of them being much better live. Up next is a gorgeous track off the rather excellent last album called ‘The Garden Rules‘. Although it is another tender track, there is an undertone of urgency in the guitar playing and the drumming which propel the track along almost in a way you would not expect. The performance is sublime, there really is no other way to describe this track.
Towards the end of the set we get a trilogy of: ‘Chasing Cars‘, ‘Chocolate‘ and ‘Called Out In The Dark‘. The first of which causes an epic sing-a-long. I take this moment to look around the entire venue and the enormity compared to those early gigs is outstanding. My little band has grown into this monster, I no longer have to keep them secret, there are other people like me who appreciate this too! ‘Chocolate‘ is performed expertly, one of the oldest songs in the setlist tonight, which is probably my only gripe. Tracks like ‘Starfighter Pilot‘, ‘Ask Me How I Am‘, ‘Balsamic Vinegar…‘ and ‘An Olive Grove Facing The Sea‘ have so much power and potential they could easily be slipped into a set somewhere. Still I won’t go into my ideal setlist…
The main set ends on a pretty spectacular performance of ‘You’re All I Have‘ which sees the front rows jumping around like loons and making me wish I was there too. I have a personal experience of this track which makes me think of me and my other half at the aforementioned V Festival which does nothing but make me smile broadly. With a bit of feedback and screams the band leave the stage with the audience pining for more.
A few moments later and the band return. Gary returns and dedicates the track ‘Life-ning‘ to the audience tonight. It is a tender moment and the lyrics to the track are incredibly reflective. It becomes an insight to his way of thinking, the things that mean the most to him, so to make the audience part of that if just for a few minutes is something incredibly special. The rest of the band return for an inspired performance of ‘Open Your Eyes‘ which sounds huge. They end rather bizarrely on a rendition of ‘Just Say Yes‘ (A track that was originally intended for Diana Vickers‘ debut album but retained by Lightbody when he realised it had more potential as a full Snow Patrol track – That one’s for you fact fans!). An odd choice but something that works very well. The band thank the audience, take a bow and disappear to a soundtrack of applauding, screams, whistles and well just a room full of adoration.
I think it is fair to say that I was wrong to have been sceptical over the last few years of being bitter for losing a band that meant a lot to me, but on the same level it has made me appreciate them more. They are musicians at the top of their game, they’ve made it. Overall tonight I was blown away, still as dramatic and intense as I remember them and I will certainly be getting back into them again, let alone seeing them again at the next opportunity. Thank you Snow Patrol.