If there’s one thing that Bush were always renowned for, it was for being massively popular during the late grunge era in America, whilst remaining relatively unknown in their homeland. This always made me wonder whether they felt it was a comedown (if you’ll excuse the pun) to play smaller shows over on these shores, or if they found it refreshing. Either way, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to see them up close and personal at the, shall we say ‘modestly-sized’ Manchester Academy 2.
From memory, the last time I saw the band was in November 1995 at another rather intimate show. Playing off the back of their debut (and in my view, still finest) record, Bush destroyed Bristol Bierkeller with an energetic, riffy set, filled with hooks alongside some mellow moments, despite only having 12 songs to play with.
Back then, I believe Placebo may have supported Bush, but 17 years later it was the turn of a new, interesting band (well, duo), Bluebell. I’d got wind of them being the support act and had checked out what limited information there was about them on the Internet beforehand. The main points of note appeared to be that a) they’ve just released a single accompanied by a NSFW video montage of random people’s intimate photos, and b) that their vocalist, Annabell Jones, is the daughter of the late Monkee Davy Jones. Pitched as a synth-pop combo, the band in place for the live set were surprisingly heavy and crunchy with some great grooves and impressive vocals. A short 20 minute set (featuring the aforementioned single, Normal Heights) seemed to swing a fair proportion of the crowd by the end, and I’d love to see these guys again in a more intimate venue on their own tour.
As 9pm drew near, there was a surprisingly low amount of palpable excitement for the imminent arrival of the main act. Manchester audiences can be notoriously difficult to get going, and this probably wasn’t helped by Bush having only reformed two years ago after an eight-year hiatus. Nevertheless, Sixteen Stone remains one of my favourite albums of all time, so I was ready to hear those classic songs live again after so long. When Gavin Rossdale and Robin Goodridge (plus new recruits Chris Traynor and Corey Britz) made their way on stage, the response was a tad muted but as the opening bars of Machinehead kicked in, it really felt like they’d never been away. Rossdale in particular threw his all into the performance from the off, gleaming with sweat after only a few minutes and whirling around the stage like a dervish; if one thing was for sure, Bush were going to get the crowd going one way or another.
Next up in the set was All My Life from the band’s most recent opus The Sea of Memories and again the response was mild with only a few guys in the middle of the room bopping around, but then it became clear what the audience was there for. As Bush launched into The Chemicals Between Us it appeared that much of the crowd were mid-era fans who had been swept up by the group’s The Science of Things album. Veering back towards the new with The Sound of Winter, the crowd continued to get warmed up, so when Everything Zen hit, the good times truly had begun to roll. Still a classic tune to this day, Rossdale seemed particularly pleased that so many still appreciated the track, remarking that he was glad they’d made it so far North this time around. Swallowed was belted out with similar heart and soul, and after Prizefighter, Stand Up and Greedy Fly, a stunningly beautiful rendition of Alien got the entire crowd singing their hearts out. Closing the main set with an electric Little Things, Bush finally had the entire room eating out of the palm of their hands.
Encoring with Pink Floyd’s Breathe, The Beatles’ Come Together and a majestic Glycerine and Comedown, Bush showed that despite the line-up changes they could still play a tight, fast-paced, enthralling set. If 1995 saw Bush as ‘the new Nirvana’ then 2012 has well and truly shown them as a band at the peak of their very own amazing sound.