Ist Ist

Manchester Academy 2 - 11th December 2021
With Omicron spreading at an alarming rate, it must have been quite a relief for Ist Ist to get their short tour completed before everybody is nailed back into their boxes. A couple more weeks and they may well have been playing this twice-postponed Academy gig twelve months down the line with three albums to promote. Fortunately, the band's home-town audience finally get to hear the songs from 2020's Architecture as well the new release The Art Of Lying in an epic 21-song set that lasts over ninety minutes.

We quite like Manchester's Academy 2. It's not huge, but a decent medium-sized venue at which you can generally get a good view of the stage if the place isn't heaving. It wasn't full to the rafters on this wet Saturday night, just nicely busy, giving people the chance to dance in relative comfort. The sound was good and the lighting impressive. Somehow the box-like quality of the venue fits Ist Ist well. This isn't a band for curved walls, fancy ornamentation or random pillars; their music – like their career trajectory – is structured and linear. Straightnesss, planning, order and discipline. It's good for the mind and good for the body.

The set-list is composed of eight songs from Architecture, the long-awaited debut album they were prevented from promoting due to the initial Covid lockdown, and nine of the ten tracks from The Art Of Lying. There are also three old favourites from the Spinning Rooms EP and a new number, 'Fool's Paradise'. Despite their obvious ability in the recording studio, playing music live is clearly the band's natural environment. It's the first time we have seen them since we caught them in a pub basement in the East End of London a couple of years ago and it is astonishing how much more relaxed they appear to be, despite the obvious emotion that touches both the performers and the listeners. For the audience, it's a joy to be standing in a venue watching live music once again, while for a group of mates who have seen their careers put on hold for so long, the importance of being on stage together and playing for their friends and families can barely be captured in words. Emotionally reticent they may be in general, but tonight those walls are unbearably fragile. At one stage vocalist Adam Houghton makes a joke; strange days indeed.

Listening to the new record it is clear it has taken a big step away from the sound of the debut album, but if you didn't know the records, listening live you would be hard pushed to tell what is old and what is new. Playing live adds weight to the bones of the new numbers and they sound enormous. It's clear how much the band believe in them, as they live them as they play. Houghton air drums along with Joel Kay, bassist Andy Keating is lost in a reverie and keyboardist/guitarist Mat Peters just has a huge smile on his face throughout as if he can't quite believe what is happening. When the audience sings back the melody of old favourite 'Emily' it's astonishingly loud, spontaneous and affecting.

It's a long set, but never drags. The band have ways of teasing you into a song and building the tension before exploding into life and offering release, while some of the slower songs never let go as they pull you across the floor. 'Listening Through The Walls' is destined to be a classic with its Eno-esque keyboards humming hypnotically as electronic drums thud sadly and Kay howls a lament. It's a step sideways. Few bands have so much in their armoury as Ist Ist; the need to grow and diversify without losing focus on who and what they are is such an important attribute and the sheer pleasure they have in their work means there really are few limits for them.

They leave the stage after sixteen songs, and then return for an encore of five more, ending with the epic 'Slowly We Escape'. It's a perfect closing track, just as 'Wolves' is a perfect opener. This band leave nothing to chance.

It's difficult to predict what will happen next. Will their next move be along the paths the second album has opened up for them or will they step back into the monochrome post-punk world of Architecture? Deep down we feel Ist Ist are heading for new horizons and their journey will be eventful at the very least. Don't get left behind.

Set List: Wolves, Fat Cats Drown In Milk, Watching You Watching Me, Middle Distance, Night's Arm, Discipline, A New Love Song, Emily, Under Your Skin, Preacher's Warning, I’m Not Here, Fool’s Paradise, If It Tastes Like Wine, Listening Through The Walls, The Waves, Heads on Spikes, Extreme Greed, It Stops Where It Starts, You’re Mine, Black, Slowly We Escape.

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