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Catfish and the Bottlemen - A Review

By Lydia Kendall-McDougall

On the first night of their November tour promoting their third studio album, The Balance, Catfish and the Bottlemen delivered an outstandingly coordinated and immersive set at Arena Birmingham.

While there tends to be slip ups here and there on the first night of a tour, especially during one of this capacity, if there were any Monday night they went unnoticed. What struck me the most was lead singer Van McCann’s incredible spontaneity, both musically and as a performer. During a performance of ‘Hourglass’, a rare laidback track from their first album, McCann stood alone onstage with an acoustic guitar, the crowd began to repeat the chorus rather than continuing into the outro. Without so much as a beat, McCann adapted the chord structure to adhere to the crowd’s demands, repeating the chorus a number of times through, even stepping back from the microphone to hear the crowd sing alone before joking, “We’ll leave it there!” I appreciated this very simple but very telling moment; the crowd’s enthusiasm was prioritised over everything with professionalism and fervour.

While the verbal interactions with the crowd were at a minimum the visual were above par with the stage going dark every few songs rather than the band addressing the audience. These mid-song interactions and brilliant responses to the energy of the crowd, as well as the screens showing us ourselves rather than just close-ups of band, were really impressive. The sense of collaboration between artiste and audience was incredibly immersive, which is not often done so effortlessly.

McCann’s previously mentioned spontaneity really did add to the memorability of the show, making the audience feel like they were seeing something individual and one-off rather than just a recreation of every other night, it certainly wasn’t the ‘plain old same routine from night to night’ that Catfish observe in their new track, ‘Encore’.

He very subtly re-worked aspects of songs, singing melodies over the audience’s voices (yet another example of the collaborate element of the show), repeating and changing lyrics, and slowing choruses of their best loved hits- such as ‘Twice’ from their second album- right down to really hone in on the moment for the crowd.

While there was an abundance of these popular tracks, the set list provided a really good range of songs from across all three albums, to the extent that it could have been any albums tour. This may not be a positive thing for those who have seen them many times before or who were really keen to hear the new stuff, but it was received well. This might be due to the fact that the first album seems to be the most loved, with seemingly not so much positive reception for the latest (it’s fair to say that although it may not be their best, it’s still a very strong album), but it definitely meant there was something for everyone, and everything for their biggest fans.

The set list was well curated, with a nice flow of tone and mood and never quite leaving me with a chance to catch my breath, which meant I got a lot out of it.

Overall, Catfish and the Bottlemen provided an incredibly smooth, coherent and impressive show which made doing an hour-and-a-half set in front of 10,000 people look easy. The interactive element of the performance, despite a lack of actual verbal communication, was definitely the highlight (along with the set list), and it’s clear that McCann was very at home on the stage. His enthusiasm doesn’t come across as forced or inauthentic, and instead just shows that he loves what he’s doing and that was made clear in the response of the audience.

Catfish and the Bottlemen are playing in Leeds on 11th November, and tickets are still available to purchase here: