Girl Band lived up to their ever-growing reputation as one of the key members of the current post-punk scene with a sprawlingly brilliant set at Manchester Academy 2.

On the back of their sophomore album, which came out in September to yet further critical acclaim, the Irish quartet made a long-awaited return to Manchester following a four year wait since their debut. That gap included three cancelled tours due to health issues. they were unsurprisingly welcomed back by a sold-out crowd, no doubt keen to see just what all the fuss was about.

With a vivaciousness perhaps offset by an attire that seemed befitting more of geography teachers than post-punk darlings, the band opened with two songs from their debut, ‘Pears for Lunch’ followed by ‘Fucking Butter’, setting us up for what was to come. Personal favourite ‘Lawman’, from ‘The Early Years’ EP, came next, an almost anthemic, thumping tune, experimental whilst remaining undeniably catchy. Five years since it’s first release as a single, this song sums this band up better than any for me. Sure, it’s a punk song at heart, but the outside influences combine to make it so much more than that. 

There’s little interaction with the crowd. This feels more like a show to consume, to study, to occasionally loosen your grip to, rather than to drink and dance to. There are sprawling, crescendoing outros done real justice, there are thrillingly brief circle pit lashes, there are thumping, techno-inspired beats. It feels brave, it feels raw, and importantly, it feels like the tweaking and cutting should make for a far less tight performance than it does, which is testament to what this band is capable of.

‘Laggard’ is a particularly highlight of the new tracks, the scratchy, rising intro bursting into one of their more energetic tracks so far, spliced into a lilting delicate lullaby that demonstrates the range of Dara Kiely’s vocal, ending again with that screaming finale. At times it feels like Girl Band should be described as ‘the opposite of easy listening’, but when that sound clicks, it really clicks.

Indeed, each songs seems to dice with genre-busting gear changes. It seems somehow even more impressive live, the way the band traverses an at times industrial sound with conflicting elements for a result that somehow continues to produce the goods. Dara Kiely’s performance is a prime example throughout, towing almost dangerously the line between effervescent punk howls and compellingly delicate, thoughtful vocals.

After charging through more newbies like the thumping ‘Amygdela’ plus singles ‘Salmon of Knowledge’ and ‘Shoulderblades’, we come to see the techno influences on the epic Prefab Castle, which takes on so many forms it somehow feels even longer than the 7:39 it clocks in at on the album. There’s also their famous cover of Blawan’s ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage’ given the Girl Band treatment to devastating effect – how many guitar bands around right now could actually pull this off? 

The final two songs perhaps produce more energy from a crowd that’s been relatively reserved beforehand apart from a faithful few down the front. ‘Going Norway’ and ‘Paul’ are admittedly easier to lose your proverbial shit to, heavy, almost nauseating riffs coupled with lyrics that are perhaps slightly easier to sing or indeed scream along to, allow more of a reaction. They’re among the catchier of Girl Band’s tunes and are a great way to finish a set that enthralled and intrigued in equal measure, but it’s in the spaces in-between, the scratching and thumping, the combining, that make Girl Band stand out.

In a scene that can seem to be dominated by the mundane, it’s rare that a band can step up to the plate and cut through the noise with a shock of originality. It’s exactly there however where Girl Band continue to catch the eye.

Written by: Dean Smith