I could write a doctoral thesis on why I love The Virginmarys’ music (universities, if you’re willing, so am I). The sheer fact I travelled a couple of hundred miles to see them perform their first gig in over a year should tell you; I’m bloody dedicated when it comes to this band. I implore you to listen to their music, only because you’ll feel the same way as I or many other fans do.
Very rarely does a band, night after night, connect with their audience and become one complete organism. Yet this trio do it without effort and not once can you accuse them of going through the motions, phoning it in or however you want to describe it. Every time is genuine and tonight proved no exception.
Before the doors had even opened, this was going to be marked as a special night. We had Nicole, one of the people who runs the fan community on Facebook, come in from America for the gig. Alongside some other people, it was great to meet physical people rather than just names on a screen.
After enduring the first support act, Monarks, who didn’t chop my onions but seemed to be well-liked by the crowd, including a song which sounded eerily similar to Queens of the Stone Age’s “Little Sister” (complete with the same rhythmic jam block), I wove my way down to the front with Rachel, another of the fan community’s admins. There we witnessed another support act, Hello Operator. After the first three songs being reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine, Queens of the Stone Age and Crobot, they failed to hold our attention yet once again, the crowd loved it. For me the best bit of their set was Rachel spotting a photographer in the photo pit wearing a Graveltones hoodie.
Stage time and there’s a rap or hip-hop song blaring through the PA about jumping or something (someone who was there can clarify), the crowd roars to life and three lads from Macclesfield climb onto the stage. Any nerves the lads may have had after being away for some time are kicked off the stage the minute they pick up their instruments, feeding on the energy of playing in front of a rabid crowd once more.
Kicking things off with an extended intro to “Running For My Life” to roars of approval, the energy on stage shows the trio are ecstatic to be back performing to an audience. Instantly they had locked in and were firing on all cylinders, ready to give it everything they had. Quickly followed by the new song “Halo in Her Silhouette” which is no less familiar due to its performances during last year’s tour and bubbling with energy, the pair of tracks set the tone for the rest of the set.
There’s no running about the stage for Ally as he hammers through his riffs and belts out his throaty vocals. Bassist Matt Rose paces a short area but doesn’t stray too far from his usual spot of stage left, bouncing on his feet. It’s fair to say many eyes tonight are watching Danny Dolan behind his drumkit. Not needing anything to bury him from view, many points in the night he stands to pummel his kit and the intensity with which he hits, even when sitting down is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Songs that are ingrained in our mind from the debut album, King of Conflict, alongside tracks we can expect to hear on next year’s follow-up were alternated for the first half of the set with the mighty “Just a Ride”, “You’ve Got Your Money, I’ve Got My Soul” and “Portrait of Red”. All with great, relatable lyrics about subjects many of us have likely experienced in our lives. Newer songs that we’d heard before were “Free To Do Whatever They Say”, “Motherless Land” and “For You My Love”. All sat well with the older gems and that was them just getting started.
“Kill The Messenger” has been heard a couple of times in the past. A frenetic piece of drumming from Danny followed by Ally’s riff; one part punk, one part grunge and sounding very thrashy. Immediately recognisable yet it had changed, dropped a gear and there’s a tinge of blues in there now. And it sounds even better for it. Then there was the gut punches of “Taking the Blame”, “Dressed to Kill” and my personal favourite, “Lost Weekend”.
Ally took a couple of moments to speak the crowd, acknowledging their absence and thanked people for coming, in the knowledge that many of us had made significant journeys and dedicating “Moths to a Flame” to Nicole. There’s a sense of ease Ally has when chatting with the crowd, not doing it often but when he does, it’s genuine, flavoured with humility. Then with “Into Dust” and the bombastic “Bang Bang Bang”, they brought the show to a close. The encore brought with it “Push the Pedal” and “Dead Man’s Shoes” and that was it.
Over a year since the last time I saw them and whilst being away for so long, it showed the quality of their performance that only three people were able to deliver the show of their careers. Few bands nowadays have that legendary show that people talk about for years to come but in a sweaty club in Stoke, that’s exactly what The Virginmarys did.