Catfish and the Bottlemen at Leeds First Direct Arena - Review
How do you save the best till last when your discography is so full of crowd-pleasers? One can only imagine the thought that goes into creating a set-list for a Catfish and the Bottlemen gig, with each song having just as solid a reputation as the last. Over three albums the band have created a strong fan base and maintained it through rarely changing their sound. It works, and it makes for an entertaining show.
The moment everyone was waiting for came in Fallout, when the crowd who had been chanting ‘Yorkshire’ between each song could belt out about being left “alone in Leeds again” in the staple track from their first album The Balcony. But moments like that continue throughout the set; there’s barely a second to slow down. Catfish songs aren’t ballads designed to move you, unless you’re talking about the physical sense of the word. Revellers in the pit would end up metres away from where they were at the start of a song, and find any opportunity to mosh.
A standout in the otherwise wall to wall set of headbangers is Hourglass. As the lights come up for the song, we find front-man Van McCann left alone on stage, singing in an almost call and response with the crowd. It’s a rare peaceful moment towards the end of the set, with the chorus of the arena taking over for McCann, giving him a moment to take it in before heading into the final few tracks.
Earlier in the set, McCann introduced Conversation with the preface that “this one is from the new album”. He doesn’t need to tell us, everyone knows. As an album, The Balance sticks to the script. It’s full of the classic indie rock tunes fans have come to expect and it is no surprise the reception to the new tracks has been just as strong as the old – if you like one, you’ll probably like them all.
As for conversation from the band themselves, it’s in short supply. The gap between each song is filled with darkness as they dip the lights and barely speak a word unless it’s to introduce the next. The moments of darkness are disorienting for anyone above standing level, left floating above the small lights emanating from phone screens of the crowd below. The same moments act as a breather for those who find themselves down there: their only chance to recover between the riots that ensue every time another song starts.
If you’re going to a Catfish and the Bottlemen show you’re going because you want to hear the tunes. They don’t rely on pyrotechnics to get your attention – which may leave something to be desired in terms of spectacle but is nothing a few fan-provided flares can’t solve. Between this, the lack of colour on the screens behind them and the limited talking throughout the show, it really is all about the music for this band. The set design they do have works well – with neon The Balance logos on either side of the stage being the main attraction.
So, how do you save the best till last? With no encore to follow, the band end on Cocoon, a first album throwback that brings just as much nostalgia as it does joy. The crowd release any and all energy they have left at this point, which is a surprising amount.
The last time I saw Catfish and the Bottlemen live, they played the headline slot of Falls Festival in Lorne, Australia, at the end of 2018. One album and almost a full year on, they maintain the same attitude and aesthetic towards their live sets – no matter whether it is their own packed out stadium gig or a field full of Aussies on New Year’s Eve, you know exactly what you’re going to get, and chances are it won’t be long until they’re headlining similarly big festivals here in the UK.
Words and photos by Georgia Carroll
Catfish and the Bottlemen played Leeds First Direct Arena on Monday 11th November.