In years to come when people talk about Oasis playing at the Joiners in Southampton, The Arctic Monkeys’ gig at the Frog and Parrot in Sheffield, and Highly Suspect’s Night and Day Café concert, I can say “I was there, man!” One of the traits that make Highly Suspect such an endearing and lovable band is that, despite their fame and their current album topping the Mainstream Rock Song Billboard Charts, they embrace the proximity to their fans by playing in small venues.
It is in venues like the Night and Day Café, with capacities in the low hundreds rather than thousands, where a dedicated fan base is built that will be loyal to the band in years to come.
With the Night and Day Café near capacity before the first riffs were strummed, it was great to see the Manchester crowd ready to party from the start and not only rock up for the main act. To get the blood pumping and sweat dripping, Scottish hard pop rock band Vukovi were up first.
Sensing the immense opportunity to support Highly Suspect for two shows, Vukovi played their hearts out with a special blend of heavy and poppy rock songs. There was an immediate chemistry between performers and crowd and both loved the set in equal measures, though it was clear whom everyone was really waiting for. Taking phones from the audience and recording videos on stage, singer Janine, quickly won over the crowd. Musically, Vukovi will need to work on refining their sound quality to make those hard hitting rock tunes come across crisper and stand out more from the plethora of bands trying to make it. Having said that, they were bloody fantastic and good fun.
With Vukovi’s set over, the Night and Day Café was now at capacity and those who had been hiding in the back of the venue quickly made their way towards the dance floor. Highly Suspect, the bluesy grunge-rock trio from Cape Cod, was about to take the stage. Launching straight into their customary Bath Salts opener, hands flew up, feet left the floor, and the tranquil café was transformed into one almighty party.
It did not take long for a mosh pit to form, and by the second song, Lost, pushing, shoving and bumping was in full flow. Being a small venue without a safety barrier, people who had been waiting in front of the stage were starting to be crushed a little, but in true polite British fashion, you could hear “I’m sorry” here and there and even the most enthusiastic moshers made sure that the evening went without any incident.
Bloodfeather saw the first crowd surfers make their way to the stage. However, given the absence of a security pit in the small venue, their endeavours were terminated with undignified thumps as they were cast onto the subwoofers in front of the stage.
Next came the fast-paced Vanity. Wait a minute. The setlist said that the slow bluesy Mom from their first album was to be next. Throughout the night, the setlist seemed to be discarded and the song order was changed. It is always fantastic to see a band that gets into the flow of things and adjusts their set accordingly. Following the mayhem of Vanity, the tempo was taken down a little with the slower bluesy Seretonia, which is my favourite from the new album. By the reaction of the crowd, I was not the only one waiting for this song.
There were a series of technical problems on the night, and following the introspective Seretonia, the band was forced to take a longer break to resolve the issues. “Ah, sh*t happens, right?” singer Johnny Stevens proclaimed after the band took back to the stage. “This one is currently the #1 rock song in the US”. With its overdriven bass riffs and staccato vocals, My Name is Human is soon becoming the most popular song from Highly Suspect’s second studio album The Boy Who Died Wolf. More crowd surfing, more moshing, and more “Oh, I’m sorry” followed.
Wolf was the third and last song from the new album, with the band focussing on songs from their first studio album Mister Asylum, which was released earlier this year. Given that the Night and Day Café was not build with concerts in mind, the sound engineers truly did miracles to make the band sound as clear and crisp as they did, matching the fantastic sound of their studio recordings.
What sets Highly Suspect apart from a lot of other bands is the highly believable and emotional connection to their own songs, similar to Pearl Jam on a good day. Their songs mostly deal with tough topics such as suicide, addiction, and loss and one of their oldest songs, Lydia, which deals with the heart-breaking aftermath of failed relationships was no different. The hypnotic rhythm coupled with the counter-tempo vocals soon enthralled the audience, who were now singing along at the top of their voices.
In the early days of Highly Suspect, the band played Hendrix and Pink Floyd covers in local Cape Cod bars. The slow blues guitar version of Chicago, sung by bassist Rich, reminded me of both Jimi and Floyd and it soon became clear that all three members of the band are highly accomplished musicians. Many years of extremely hard work, practicing and playing small clubs, formed a special bond between the three that shone through in this touching rendition. Chicago marked a change in tempo, calming things down a bit to let the audience catch their breath for what was about to come.
“Let’s have a f*cking dance party”, could only mean one thing: Claudeland! Anyone who saw Highly Suspect at Reading this year will remember the insane circle formed during this song, and the Night and Day Café crowd was pumping again with shouts of “Dance, motherf*ckers dance!”
The evening came to a close with a rather chaotic version of ATL. Following a long introduction, Johnny and Rich Meyer left the stage, to leave drummer Ryan to launch into a respectable drum solo. It has been a long time since I have seen a band make time for a good drum solo. However, at 7 minutes long, it seemed as if Ryan Meyer had been abandoned, stopping and starting with different rhythms, including a samba, until he was joined again.
Once back on stage Johnny played a guitar solo for a couple of minutes before the band disappeared with a “Thank you so much! Manchester you’ve been great”. Surely they’d be back for an encore. Fans milled around for a little bit before the house lights went back up and the show was clearly over.
I had been looking forward to this concert for a long time; with the catchy tunes of the new album constantly going around my head. On the night, Highly Suspect didn’t let me down. It was a very special concert and on their way out, the audience were raving about it. So, before I sound too much like the fanboy that I am: Highly Suspect at the Night and Day Café was an amazing show and anyone who loves a good grungy blues-rock show must go see them when they are back in March 2017.
Live Review & Concert Photography by Gunnar Mallon.