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Live Review: Squid at The Stoller Hall, Manchester (03/06/2021). ‘Fieldworks Tour’

‘It’s weird’ observes frontman Ollie Judge looking into the half empty crowd halfway through tonight’s entertainment. These times will go down in history, for all the good, the bad and the ugly. Bands are slowly starting to play live again, this time to half empty theatres, quite often running into left field territory and umming and arring about what the crowd are thinking. The ‘fieldworks tour’, announced recently, is a set of anti shows for Squid to experiment playing newly written material, looking for a crowd reaction, rather than focusing on their highly acclaimed Bright Green Field record dropped just a month ago. In doing this, they travelled round small venues in the UK debuting these, getting top marks for innovation in my books.

Although originally intrigued and excited, it soon turned into apprehension. As I sat at the back of the socially distanced Stoller Hall in Manchester it happened. After a minute of duration, I decided that rock bands shouldn’t be allowed to play gigs in high walled theatres due to the uncomfortable amount of natural reverb, probably more fitting for an orchestra than a rock band. Every time a noise was produced, it was masked by the room’s acoustics, and subsequently crushed into a tinny mess, clipping the wings of anything the band was trying to do. The best thing about this gig was the audience clapping, something that would make for an amazing field recording.

The lady in front of me (or rather, spaced out 5 seats from me, and in the row in front – for specifics) agrees with my indifference. She’s turned to texting her friend for the entire first 15 minutes of the show, while the group noodle about playing some fragmented instrumentals that drop out early. A little later in the show a few vocal numbers are performed, unfortunately having little of the ambitious instrumental qualities that made Squid’s work up until this point so exciting. Not much to say on this front, besides one sounded like a less climatic version of Narrator. If we were fortunate enough to have heard the lyrics this could have been compensated.

15 minutes in the crowd are woken up a bit when the band decides to play Paddling. One of four songs from the Bright Green Field LP that Squid drop into the setlist. All of these are performed well enough, but lacked the right atmosphere for them to pop. Squid are bold risk takers don’t get me wrong, just sometimes risks don’t pay off, and unfortunately this is one of them.