The Courteeners – Phones 4 U Arena, Manchester, 13th December 2013

It seems to me that The Courteeners are a band you either love or hate. Many people are under the impression that they’re an arrogant Oasis cover band (ironically much like Oasis being an arrogant Beatles cover band), however there’s far more to Liam Fray et al than just being a LAD band, which unfortunately they very much are. They seem to be a band for the people, and for the people of Manchester, and it’s for this reason that we go in to this evening expecting big things.

Having announced a ‘live hiatus’ this very morning, and with tonight being the final leg of their tour, everyone’s expectations are obviously running quite high. As the heaving mass of bodies parades through Manchester’s Victoria Station, towards the recently renamed Phones 4 U Arena, the atmosphere is one of a party, though admittedly sounding somewhat out of place in a draughty, echoing train station.  An early setback of the night comes in the form of the seating tickets we’re issued, before we’ve even set foot in the venue. However, we’re willing to overlook such a problem for two reasons, the first of which is that it is The Courteeners and it is a homecoming of sorts; the second comes when, emerging on to the higher tier, we see the stalls area of Manchester’s biggest venue. There’s barely room to move and so even though we’re up in the heavens, with a somewhat debatable view, it proves to be a blessing in disguise.

Opening with current single ‘Are You In Love With A Notion?’ is a sure fire way to get the crowd going, though admittedly this one doesn’t need encouragement. Fuelled by a heady cocktail of Carling, sweat and testosterone, the crowd sing back every word, and show no signs of relent during the atypical party anthem ‘Welcome to the Rave’. Band and crowd alike, however, really get in to the groove of things during tracks from St Jude, with ‘Cavorting’, ‘Acrylic’ and ‘If It Wasn’t For Me’ making early, back-to-back appearances. It’s these tracks which solidify the band as the current indie heavyweights they are and as a front man Liam Fray exudes charisma; with the crowd eating out the palm of his hand, he breaks news of their hiatus,which for those who haven’t already heard, is met with disappointment.

Another issue with tonight, and it’s unfortunately quite a large one, isn’t with the band; it’s not even with the audience. It’s with the venue. The Phones 4 U arena is essentially a corporate brothel in which you’re essentially paying to be the fuck yourself, and it isn’t the gentle type. Ticket prices rarely see below the £30 mark, the beer is poor, the atmosphere poorer, and while it predominantly is an exhibition space and not a live music venue in it’s purest sense, one can’t help but think that any kind of event here loses some of it’s overall appeal through the sheer size of the venue, never mind paying almost a fiver a pint. And that’s the problem that tonight suffers from hugely. It doesn’t have the same spark that seeing them at a festival, or at an open air venue such as Castlefield Bowl, would have done, through no fault of their own.

The arena is renowned for it’s poor sound and softer songs from tonight’s set list such as ‘Please Don’t’ certainly don’t benefit from the sheer volume of the venue. Lack of intimacy aside however, tonight proves that The Courteeners have not only a legion of die-hard fans, who look ready to scrap for their honour if push came to literal shove, but they also have a repertoire of solid hits that still hit home, time and time again.

The first encore of the night comes in the form of a solo performance from Fray. ‘How Come’, ‘No You Didn’t…’ and ‘The Rest of the World Has Gone Home’ all get an outing, and once again the crowd is in full voice, before he’s joined on stage by his band mates for a final three tracks. ‘Here Come the Young Men’ is probably the strongest track on Anna and fairs equally well here, but the highlight of the evening comes as it’s finale, with ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and the ever-rousing ‘What Took You So Long’ both of are met with a sing-along from every member of the crowd.

It’s been an evening of mixed feelings, most of them given over to the inordinate price of just about everything, and the occasional sound issues. Aside from those, The Courteeners once again show just exactly why they’re at the top of their game, and sign off 2013 with an absolute bang. Admittedly there was no home town surprises which would have been nice, but with a 22 song set list you can’t really complain. Altogether an evening which I would probably do again, though this time in a better venue, thanks.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.