REVIEW: You Me At Six at The Middlesborough Empire

The press company had given me tickets for this night specifically to review the opening act, Vant, but due to  Arriva’s classic of incompetence, the X12 didn’t bother to turn up, so I arrived just as they left the stage. “No matter,” I thought, “let’s just review You Me at Six instead. I’m sure they’ll be worth the journey.”


Let’s start with a confession – I knew very little of You Me at Six before this gig. I knew they started as pop-punk and had progressed to a rockier style over the years. I also knew that their lead vocalist was called Josh Franceschi. And I knew that, for a time, they were pretty successful.


That was it.


My entire knowledge of the band could be condensed to three sentences.


And you know what? After this gig, I’m not going to bother with any further exploration of their back catalogue or history. I just don’t feel they deserve it.


Not that the gig was all bad. Judging from the crowd around me, if you knew the band well already, you’d have loved it. Every song, even the (apparently) new one, was greeted with a full crowd sing-along and wild cheers. Atmosphere wise, you couldn’t have wanted more. The Empire was so jammed I could barely reach the main floor, let alone get to a central position – but apparently the band wanted to showcase smaller venues on this tour.


And I guess that brings me to my whole problem with the gig. For a casual music lover, every decision the band had made about the show, presumably the whole tour, seemed to be the wrong one. Five or six songs in a row to open the set without any sort of crowd interaction or acknowledgement, other than letting them sing the chorus when Franceschi apparently just couldn’t be bothered. A chaotic, strobe-heavy light setup that meant that practically every member of the band was virtually anonymous and could have been replaced by shadows on a projector screen, a feeling only accentuated by all-black clothing for everyone. Franceschi spending half the gig with his hood up, isolating himself from the fans – pretty unacceptable given the emotional content of the band’s lyrics. When he finally did interact with someone off-stage, it was purely to spout clichés:  praising an appallingly mediocre guitar solo that was entirely unnecessary in the context of the song. Something about forgetting all the bullshit from the outside world and just enjoying the music. He then shared a word for Donald Trump along the lines of how everyone should be really angry at him and his political style, immediately countering his previous statement about forgetting the bullshit. We then got treated with the classic “Our new album’s the absolute best”, literally in the same sentence as he mocked bands for always saying that.


The music? It was okay I suppose. The songs were for the most part pretty indistinguishable and aggressively mediocre – mid-tempo rock, forsaking their faster punkier roots, played at a consistently moderately loud volume with a “woah” inevitably constituting some part of the bridge or middle eight. Compounded by an exceptionally muddy sound for the first half of the gig, with the guitars almost completely inaudible, it was hard to distinguish one from another. Occasionally, you’d notice the odd influence – a flash of My Chemical Romance here, a moment of recent Blink-182 there. Stand-outs included ‘Reckless’, an undeniable rip-off of The Killers ‘When You Were Young’, which they made no attempt to hide as they successfully morphed into that number at the end of the song. ‘Too Young to Feel This Old’ also stood out, it was perhaps the most interesting part of the night, re-arranged just for the singer and guitar.

Yet, even here, the most musically interesting and exciting moment of the whole gig, where I was briefly convinced that maybe I’d been harsh all along and they were going to convince me of the genuine quality of their live show, they cocked it up. They went off. They’d closed their main set with the slowest, quietest number. As a final encore, that can work effectively. But as a main set closer? Never.


That pretty much summed up the night for me. Strange decisions and a lazy approach to the whole thing. Held in the wrong venue, with the wrong light setup and a tedious, samey set list. It smacked of the greatest hits tour of a tired old band, the sort who used to be able to fill stadiums but have been reduced to touring the crappier venues in the nether regions of the UK so that they can still fill the room to get the atmosphere they desire. And maybe there’s a hint of truth in that – the musical world has, inevitably, moved on in the three years between the band’s previous album and their new one (due out in January). You Me at Six felt very much a product of their time– successful because they played the right style for their moment in the spotlight, not because they were musically innovative or wrote fantastic songs. This gig just reinforced that opinion for me, and I won’t be upset if I don’t hear a whole heap of You Me at Six again. Which is a shame – given their performance of ‘Too Young’, they have the potential to do something which is actually pretty damn good.


They just don’t seem to want to.


But that’s okay. Some bands just like to play for their fans. And as I said at the start – if you were a fan, you’d have loved it.

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