Courteeners @ firstdirect Arena, Leeds
17th November 2018
There’s absolutely no doubt that a Courteeners show is always going to be amazing, and judging by the packed out 13,500 capacity firstdirect Arena, tonight will be no different. The band were made to play huge shows – in fact, it seems bizarre looking at the dates for their 2018 Winter Tour that the Southampton show has a capacity of less than half of tonight’s standing area alone.
Considering how important their Manchester roots are, the fact that there’s no Manchester date on this tour means that fans are going to have to travel, and there’s certainly no lack of enthusiastic Mancunians in here tonight. Openers Zuzu and Gerry Cinnamon have an easy job building hype for Courteeners, seeing as everyone already seems buzzing with excitement from the minute doors open, but both of them give brilliant performances, and a fair amount of the crowd seem familiar with both already. Nothing at all, though, can prepare you for the atmosphere when the headliners finally hit the stage.
Are You In Love With A Notion is a fantastic opener, and the first indicator that this show is going to be incredible – despite the rigorous security, smoke flares have managed to make their way into the arena, and it’s no less than you’d expect from a Courteeners crowd. It almost seems wrong seeing them indoors, but both the atmosphere and the energy of AYILWAN make the room feel like Courteeners are just headlining their own festival here tonight.
The passion of the crowd, and the band, doesn’t drop for a second as we tear through Cavorting and How Good It Was; every lyric rattles around the arena so loudly you can hardly hear frontman Liam Fray’s voice. This is exactly the appeal though – the sense of shared and genuine adoration for the band and the music. The setlist is absolute fan-service, but it feels like anything Courteeners play would be fan-service because every track is met with the same degree of joy – 2013’s Van Der Graaff gets its first play since the year it came out, and the same goes for 2014’s Has He Told You That He Loves You Yet. The response is unmistakably pleased, and rightfully so; Van Der Graaff’s compelling descending lines and bass may as well have been written to play to audiences this big.
Every Courteeners song really seems to have been written to play to massive crowds, from their whole back catalogue to the debut of new track Better Man, with an almost Blossoms-esque vibe. The brand-new is well-received, but it can’t match Small Bones or Bide Your Time, the fitting lyrics ‘come and sing your heart out with me’ echoed all around the arena. While they digress from the very guitar-based typical Courteeners sound, Lose Control and The 17th are absolute highlights – as ever, every word of the dizzyingly but brilliantly repetitive latter is sung back at the top of the crowd’s voices.
Following the outpouring of energy during the last twelve songs, an acoustic section might seem like a moment for respite, but no one here is letting up. The sound of thirteen thousand voices singing back ‘it’s got f*** all to do with me’ has a bigger effect than a full band version would have had, and it’s testament to fans’ familiarity with Courteeners live show that no one seems phased by the Stone Roses interlude that’s been part of Please Don’t live for as long as we can remember.
The rest of the acoustic section consists of another new song, Hanging Off Your Cloud, which is well appreciated despite a guitar mess-up at the start which Fray handles with easy-going grace, before enchanting the whole arena, and Smiths Disco. The fact that Courteeners are able to close their main set with not only an acoustic song, but an acoustic B-side, just demonstrates more than ever their ability to capture their fans, and the immense appreciation that fans return is clear from how loudly they continue to sing along.
It doesn’t take many minutes of ‘Yorkshire! Yorkshire!’ chants and singing Courteeners refrains over and over till they return to the stage for a glorious encore. Opening this final section is another new song, Heavy Jacket, and as the title would indicate it’s heavier – the words are easy enough to pick up and it barely takes a moment for the audience to be shouting back ‘heavy jacket heavy jacket heavy jacket heavy jacket come ON’. As soon as Heavy Jacket’s over, we start bordering on anthem territory, as the pacey opening riff of Modern Love starts up and not a single person’s still sitting down.
As we near the close of the show, every song just gets better and better. Not Nineteen Forever certainly seems to be the peak of the show – not a flare is left unlit, not a pint is left unthrown, it’s the song that gets played over and over again in all the afterparties that take place in Leeds’ myriad of indie clubs. But as if it we can’t top that, What Took You So Long is the crowning jewel of the set – somehow people produce more flares to wave around in the air and more pints to ecstatically hurl in the air, and more ardour with which to exultantly shout themselves hoarse.
The atmosphere hasn’t stopped building all evening and even before the song starts properly, people are already singing the ‘wooooah ooooah’s that have been bouncing about all set long, and this doesn’t even let up long after Courteeners leave the stage and the crowd spills out into the streets of Leeds. Courteeners never disappoint, and their status as icons of indie-rock is more secure than ever.
Tickets for remaining dates can be found here.