Ist Ist, Bandit and Dr Dr at O2 Ritz, Manchester 31/03/23

Today sees the release of Ist Ist’s third album, Protagonists, and tonight sees them play their biggest headline show to date. The Ritz, one of many Manchester iconic venues and the place of countless great concerts by countless great bands, has a capacity of 1500 and tonight is almost a sell out. Not bad considering that not so long ago the band were playing places holding just a couple of hundred.

As always mention must be made of the support bands and tonight saw two cracking sets from two very different bands. Openers Dr Dr  made a seriously good impresiion. With just a couple of singles under their belt they walked on stage like they owned the place, and so they should. Oozing confidence singer Fred Farrell would give 1970’s Iggy a run for his money both in looks, vocals and stage presence. Backed by an incredibly tight delivery of guitar, drums and bass Dr Dr hammer out a superb set of heavy, glam rock influenced punk that quickly captured those present this early – and it was a decent number. Check out singles Sid & Bella and Black Gold and show Dr Dr some support. They’re certainly going places.

Bandit bring a full on dose of modern day indie rock. Loud, fast and full of the guitar and drum sounds recognisable in so many of today’s chart topping rock acts. What is completely mesmorising and makes Bandit such a good band to watch is the sheer energy emitted by frontman Nat Waters and guitarist Evan Tate. Completely owning the stage there’s barely a second when either of them is still. Tipped to be indie artists of the future by, amongst others, Radio 1, there’s a sizeable number of people in the crowd who are big Bandit fans. Based on tonights performance there’ll be more keeping a lookout for them.

Ist Ist go from strength to strength. Retaining that dark, bass driven, atmospheric sound new album Protagonists seems more relaxed, more polished with less of a nod to that Joy Division sound. Protagonists features heavily in tonight’s set, as it should, but it doesn’t dominate. Album opener Stamp It Out opens the show with it’s thunderous sound and roaring bass riff. But it’s then a throwback to 2019 with Jennifers Lips maintaining the tempo before the more ominously brooding soundscape of Fat Cats Drown In Milk  and  Watching You Watching Me from 2021’s The Art Of Lying.  Six songs in and Discipline from debut Architecture means we’ve already witnessed Ist Ist play a superb collection from their back catalogue.

But Ist Ist are so much more than individual songs. The whole set is shrouded in an incredible atmosphere. The deep dark vocals of Adam Haughton, the haunting bass rhythms from Andy Keating, the swirling, shimmering keyboards from Mat Peters, the guitar work from both Haughton and Peters all underpinned by the precise drumming of Joel Kay simply work together perfectly. Whether it’s the slow, heavy tempos of A New Love Song, Fools Paradise or Heads On Spikes or the faster, foot tapping, danceable beats of Trapdoors or It Stops Where It Starts the whole set is simply hypnotic, enthralling. The rare sort of gig where you stand and think “I don’t want this to end”. Anyone here to whom Ist Ist are new were quickly won over. For those who have followed them since the beginning tonight was on another level. A glance down from the balcony only shows a packed floor with every pair of eyes focused forwards on the stage. There’s no deep queue at the bar midway through the set because the sounds from the stage have grabbed everyone.

The encore opens with Emily. Although on the new album Ist Ist have been playing it live for for a number of years. Always a highlight tonight it really is something special. Extreme Greed, crowd favourite Your Mine and finally the huge sounding Slowly We Escape close a night when Ist Ist could do no wrong. I wasn’t the only one saying it was the best they’d ever seen them (and they’re always a highlight of any gig calendar) but tonight really was something special. Potentially a gig of the year, it’s going to take some serious quality to top tonight.

This was the opening night of Ist Ist’s tour to promote new album. If you can catch them on any upcoming dates make sure you do.

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Steve White

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