Declan McKenna @ O2 Ritz Manchester
I’d never been to the O2 Ritz before, and it seemed only right that my first visit to Manchester’s iconic venue should be in pursuit of my current favourite male artist, teenage indie prodigy Declan McKenna. I’d heard great things about the venue, namely with regards to its ‘bouncy floor’, but what I wasn’t expecting was to arrive 15 minutes after doors opened to be met with a queue extending round the corner of ‘edgy’ looking teens in Declan-esque vintage outfits, smoking rollies and talking excitedly amongst one another. It seemed as if people had been there since early afternoon, suggesting to me that, if people were prepared to camp out with blankets and takeaway pizza for him all day, McKenna’s set was definitely going to be something special.
Coventry five-piece Feet kicked off the night with their own unique brand of jangly punk. It’s hard to really work out what Feet are trying to do with their sound, jumping from heavy guitars and shouty vocals to a much more melodic Foals-esque vibe every time they switched song, but what I can say is that I think they’re fab. Having seen their name around but never really hearing much from them, I was surprised at the large following they seemed to already have from the audience, who were screaming lyrics back at them and testing out the famous ‘bouncy floor’ by starting pits all over the place. Finishing up with single Petty Thieving, a song that appears to be reminiscent of everything from Cabbage to The Maccabees, Feet left me with a need to hear more music of theirs immediately (something that is a massive rarity to me- I’ve seen a lot of rubbish support bands in my time).
9pm rolled around, and with it came Declan, clad all in white and appearing before the throngs of adoring fans like some kind of indie Jesus. All that was needed was the first few opening lines of recent single The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home for the whole place to be hooked, arms in the air, word-perfect. Considering the message of the song is a voice for young people in a world where they are often ignored, it was an extremely poignant moment to witness the people it was written for reacting in such a way to it, and the first in a long list of moments in his set that, to me, showed the eighteen-year-old musician to possess more of a connection to the world around him than a lot of artists with years more experience.
“Dec, what do you think about the car?” came the familiar recording as the closing bars of the anthemic Mind drew to a close and Declan announced “This one’s called Humongous”. A combo of acoustic verses, an anthemic chorus and the best and trippiest instrumental I’ve ever heard in my life, Humungous has to be one of the best songs I’ve ever experienced live, and served to show off the incredible talent of Declan’s band, four young musicians who have almost as big of a following as Declan himself. Rattling through track after track, from the frenzy of Isombard to the heartbreaking Paracetamol, written about transgender teen Leelah Alcorn, the pure talent and enthusiasm of Dec and his band’s did not waiver, and it would be easy to mistake them as being far older and more experienced than they are.
Finishing his set with 2015 single and certified banger Brazil, McKenna had the entire place hanging on his every word as mosh pits opened up and he dived into the audience, yellow confetti falling from the ceiling. Every part of McKenna’s set epitomised being young and opinionated and loving music with all your heart- yet when he left the stage I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
Where was Listen To Your Friends?
My favourite track from Declan’s debut album, the politically-infused Listen To Your Friends was nowhere to be seen- and I needed to hear it. As the throngs of fans put their own spin on Labour supporters’ infamous ‘Jeremy Corbyn chant’ (‘OHHHHH DECLAN MCKENNA’, if you’re not familiar) I prayed he would return- and return he did.
“This is Listen To Your Friends” Declan announced as he emerged on stage wielding an acoustic guitar, and I breathed a sigh of relief. The album track is, in my opinion, one of the most important songs released this year, and my feelings towards it were quadrupled upon witnessing Declan singing it right in front of my eyes. His use of spoken word poetry to rant beautifully about the state of British politics has always been particularly special, but seeing an audience of hundreds screaming along to it with the same passion that it was written in was nothing short of pure magic.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Declan McKenna is the artist a millennial audience needs to give them a voice in a world that won’t listen to them. There’s an understanding between him and his fans that’s uncommon to see from someone so early on in his career, and it was honestly a pleasure to witness live.
You can watch a live performance of ‘Listen To Your Friends’ here, in case you wanted to know exactly WHAT I’m going on about.