The Loveless brothers returned to Manchester on their latest tour on Friday March 29th to reclaim their throne as the kings of all dark and dirty with a blistering set at the Ritz, with support from Reading outfit Valeras.

Valeras are the new kids on the block in a very literal sense. All aged between 18-20, they’ve shown a maturity beyond their years so far in 2019, coming in at late notice to replace the Wytches and proving an alluring opening band for Drenge on this tour just weeks after enjoying great reviews on a first headline tour of their own.

There’s a lovely mix of indie, punk and grunge elements littered throughout their set and Rose Yagmur on vocals certainly evokes the kind of sound that has proven successful for other female-led bands in recent years such as Black Honey and Wolf Alice (who incidentally opened for by Drenge whilst touring their debut album My Love Is Cool). Songs like Painkiller are clearly influenced by the 90s alt-rock sound and here Yagmur’s voice fits perfectly with the effortless melody of these classic-sounding songs.

Intentions, released late last year, is the highlight of the set. An infectious chorus has a definite sing-along quality and is performed with a degree of ease and magnetism that leaves those early enough to catch the support, which is a surprisingly large amount given the Ritz’s frustratingly early set times during the weekend, undoubtedly keeping their eyes peeled for a band with an incredibly intriguing future.

It’s been just under a year since they returned to live performances and Drenge have clearly been gathering up ammo over that year. From a personal view, it’s been a few years since I had the pleasure of seeing the band live and what is clear is how much they have grown (not least in members, from a duo to a trio and now a four-piece) whilst retaining the same attractively shady edge that made them popular in the first place.

The title track from new album Strange Creatures is an appropriately moody opening, with singer Eoin Loveless evoking a typical alternative 80s vibe with the warbling baritone and thick long overcoat. It’s an opener shrouded in a mystery that is all set to be blasted open over the course of the next hour. Autonomy and Face Like A Skull follow with a menacing, frenetic energy that kick things up a gear and soon the long coat is kicked away and Loveless is making sarcastic jibes at the date of the gig, the infamous ‘Brexit Day.’ Opening with three songs from their three separate albums showcases Drenge’s versatility in the perfect possible way whilst allowing fans to ease into the gig with some old favourites alongside a new tune.

This Dance is a self-fulfilling track, evoking a big reaction from the crowd and with an infectiously catchy chorus it’s a trademark of the new Drenge whilst always retaining that similar sense of danger. An alternate live version of old favourite Backwaters evokes a more industrial feeling whilst Running Wild is treated to a slow-building crescendoing solo that leads into an incredible finish that seems to suck energy out of the room before pumping it back in, more potent and virile than ever.

The highlight of the set comes from the back-to-back performances of We Can Do What We Want followed by the new Bonfire of the City Boys. A scathingly anarchic duo of anthems that produce the biggest response of the night from the crowd, it seems like Bonfire in particular has already won a place in the hearts of Drenge’s biggest fans before the slow-burning Let’s Pretend seemingly ends the set, performed excellently by Rob Graham on his fascinating see-through guitar.

A contrived introduction to Bloodsports kicks off a small yet enjoyable encore that predictably ends with Eoin being joined by a crowd lapping up Fuckabout as an outro to a fascinating set. The singer claims that the Manchester crowd are being treated to this old favourite with it not being included on the set elsewhere, although there’s more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek about that claim.

In the end, an emotional response from the crowd is a perfect way to close a set with a veritable pick and mix of emotion and danger, of old and of new. And despite their larger ensemble, more infectious choruses and perhaps more polished live sound, it’s clear that Drenge, for all they have undoubtedly grown, have succeeded where many before them have failed, by evolving and progressing whilst retaining an undoubted realisation of a dark, volatile energy that made them original and entertaining in the first place.

Written by: Dean Smith