There’s a sombre air around Manchester’s Sound Control tonight. In a couple of hours, long-time stalwarts of British rock music We Are The Ocean will be playing their second-to-last-ever headline show. They’re the latest in a long line of casualties in the scene (The Blackout, Blitz Kids, Kids In Glass Houses, need we go on?) to call it a day. Many of tonight’s crowd sport We Are The Ocean tattoos, and even more wear t-shirts boasting the quartet’s name, and the sight of such obvious support really hammers home that this is the end of the road.
Despite this, there’s a palpable excitement in the air, and as a result openers Holding Absence (7) find themselves playing to an impatient, mostly unresponsive crowd. While the weight of the upcoming headline set is definitely partly to blame, it may be more down to the fact that their sound connects more with Cutting Our Teeth-era We Are The Ocean than their mellow succeeding albums. Regardless, Holding Absence are more than competent onstage, with vocalist Lucas Woodland making it impossible to tear your line of sight from anywhere but the front of the room. Hints of nerves bleed through into his stage persona (whether a white-knuckle grip on the microphone and what looks like tears brimming in his eyes are due to fear or passion is anyone’s guess), but they only enhance the pure, untainted emotion at the forefront of his performance. The quintet are just as undeniably tight on soaring rock tracks like Dream Of Me than they are on faster, heavier ones (which showcase Woodland’s impeccable screams), proving that they could become a force to be reckoned with with a little more experience.
“Hello Manchester!” Liam Cromby jovially exclaims, taking to the Sound Control stage with his bandmates. “Are you ready to have a good time tonight?!” It’s a rather understated introduction considering We Are The Ocean (9) only have one more headline show after this, but what follows does not match at all. As thundering opener Trouble Is Temporary, Time Is Tonic kicks in, the previously muted crowd immediately warms up, and familiar smiles begin to appear on everyone’s faces (smiles that don’t leave until the last note rings out). Setlist wise, there’s something from every part of WATO’s career from their first EP to final album ARK, and it’s heartwarming to see faces across the room light up as their favourite era is recognised. Early tracks (I’ve Never Felt This) God Damn Good and Ready For The Fall that rarely see the light of day sound even better paired with the years’ worth of craft honing the quartet have amassed.
The band themselves are on the form of their lives, most notably Cromby himself. His voice has always been one of the strongest in the modern British rock scene – something his live performances, particularly the opening bars to Trouble Is Temporary, Time Is Tonic are testament to. His solo rendition of Chin Up, Son is simply stunning, while the screamless live version of Confessions feels all the more haunting. His role as a frontman is one taken on with a unique sort of gusto, wrapping the hundreds of people in the room around his pointed finger while still maintaining humbleness. It makes the moment he gets everyone to sit on the floor during swaggering main set closer Good For You surreal – the desired reaction probably wasn’t a single jump up and a continuation of the mellow standing setup. But it doesn’t take away from the atmosphere one bit, with beautiful singalongs to Now And Then and the aforementioned Chin Up, Son.
For the most part, this doesn’t feel like a farewell – just a celebration of We Are The Ocean’s career. But as Cromby and guitarist Alfie Scully begin talking about band memories in Manchester and thanking fans and friends who’ve been there from the start, the fact of the event begins to hit home. It seems to happen across the room at the same time, making closers The Waiting Room and Nothing Good Has Happened Yet perhaps the most intense, emotional reaction the quartet have ever had, accentuating the bittersweet nature of the night. Before tonight, it was probably easy to forget the all-round quality of their career as a whole. While there are plenty of exciting up-and-coming bands keeping the scene going, seeing We Are The Ocean go is certainly one of the more upsetting losses suffered – something tonight has definitely proved.
Words by Georgia Jackson