The Icicle Works, Manchester Academy 2, 21st October 2006

Another week, another comeback. The Icicle Works return after 16 years away to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their forming and to promote the re-issue of their debut eponymous album. Except that this is no reformation: bass player Chris Layhe and drummer Chris Sharrock are nowhere to be seen on stage and I wonder if they were invited anyway (Sharrock apparently plays drums for Robbie Williams these days so I doubt he’d need the work). Instead we get the Works’ lead singer and songwriter Ian McNabb and his backing band, which includes Dodgy drummer Matthew Priest (that’s Dodgy with a capital ‘D’), playing a two hour set of songs from The Icicle Works’ five albums to a full hall of punters old enough to remember them and who have paid almost 20 quid for the pleasure. And yes, I was one of them. I’d seen the Works a few times back in the day, the last time being, I think, in this same venue, and they were a great live band. They also released three great albums: the debut and it’s two successors, the classic Small Price Of A Bicycle and If You Want To Defeat Your Enemy, Sing His Song. Their fourth album Blind was a dreadful hotchpotch of styles ranging from gospel to blues to heavy rock that had none of the glorious soaring choruses that were a trademark of the first three albums. I jumped ship at this point and have never heard their final effort Permanent Damage.

But enough of the history. They started the evening with the brilliant non-album single “When It All Comes Down”, released when the band were at their peak. And it sounded fantastic. Hundreds of bald forty-somethings sang gleefully along and when they got to the chorus McNabb stepped away from his mike and stood, hand cupping ear, at the front of the stage while the audience continued to sing. Second chorus, same thing. Eventually, towards then end of the song, he sang the chorus. This, unfortunately, set the tone for the rest of the evening. Now, singing along at a gig is all well and good, and for this gig in particular it should have been mandatory given the epic, anthemic nature of many of the tunes. However, there’s a big difference between singing along to a song and singing the song while the vocalist takes a fag break and bathes in the audience’s sycophantic glow. The former is an enjoyable part of many a gig, The Lemonheads gig the week before, for example. The letter should only be employed during an encore of a band’s biggest hit and not during almost every song of a two hour set. That’s called karaoke. As one disgruntled punter pointed out to McNabb early on, “you haven’t bought a ticket to see us”.

It wasn’t all bad, in fact, some of it was quite brilliant. “Up Here In The North Of England” sounded better than I remember it ever being, while most of the material from the debut album, especially “Out Of Season” and “Factory In The Desert”, sounded fresh and new thanks to the excellent backing band. “Evangeline” was magical until the elongated singalong of the final chorus stretched patience to the limit as McNabb lit up another fag and massaged his ego. “Why didn’t you buy my fucking solo albums?” he asked as the crowd did his work for him.

The inclusion in the set of almost as many numbers from Blind than from Small Price Of A Bicycle and Defeat Your Enemy put together was another bugbear although Blind rocker “Shit Creek” was a welcome diversion from the rather more ponderous likes of “Little Girl Lost” and “Starry Blue Eyed Wonder”. The majority of the crowd seemed perfectly happy with how things were going, however, even with the karaoke element which reached its nadir at the end of the gig. First there was “Understanding Jane” which McNabb barely sang a word of. Then came the encores which were as I had expected them to be all along: the incredible, anthemic “Hollow Horse”, their best song in my eyes; the brilliant “Love Is A Wonderful Colour”, their one and only hit, and the equally great “Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)”. “Hollow Horse” began and once again was carried along by a choir of gruff, lairy voices, McNabb happy to contribute the odd line. When the same thing happened on “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” I’d had enough. I don’t remember the last time I walked out of a gig by a band I like but I walked out of this one.

3 Responses to “The Icicle Works, Manchester Academy 2, 21st October 2006”

Leave a Reply