The Courteeners are a band that seem to strongly divide opinion. But whichever way you’re swayed, there’s no denying they have one of the most loyal fan bases around, and that's evident here at the Birmingham Academy. With hardly any radio play or press they’ve just managed to get themselves a top 10 album with ‘Anna’, whilst selling out this show, and many others around the country, so they must be doing something right.
It’s evident that tonight isn’t going to be a stand-and-nod-your-head gig when we see numerous crowdsurfers going over the barrier before the band have even taken to the stage. When they do though, they kick things off with ‘Are You In Love With A Notion?’ the opener from ‘Anna’. The album has only been out a couple of weeks but all the way back the crowd are singing along word for word.
With a brief “Hello Birmingham,” Liam Fray and co. carry on with the new songs and play ‘Push Yourself’ and recent single ‘Lose Control’. There’s a definite beefed up sound on these new tracks especially with their live keyboard player. The development of their sound is really noticeable when they skip from new to old and play early singles ‘Cavorting’ and ‘Acrylic’. There’s no doubt these are the songs that started them and they’re always going to be the ones everyone is chanting, but you can tell they’re keen to give the new material an airing. ‘Van Der Graaff’, their next single, sounds big. It takes them in a bold direction that may well see The Courteeners gain a few new fans.
The middle half of the set sees the rest of the band leave the stage and Liam Fray is without his guitar, backed up with just keys. A rare outing for B-side ‘Car 31’ gets a few cheers but it is ‘Marquee’ that gets one of the biggest cheers of the night, a heartbreakingly honest account of a broken relationship that shows off the sincere lyrics from Fray that often get hidden beneath the jaunty singalong anthems they’re known for.
Talking of anthems, new track ‘Welcome To The Rave’ with its electronic synthy riff sounds very un-Courteeners on paper, but actually marks their new direction while distinctly having the Courteeners stamp all over it. As such, pints are flying everywhere, one of the most energetic crowds we’ve seen in a long time. Things don’t let up with ‘Here Come The Young Men’ which Fray informs us is about the band themselves. The lyrics "never turn my back to the painting, youth encompassed, ready and straight in” seemingly referring to the painting of Audrey Hepburn that adorns the cover of their debut ‘St. Jude’, and not turning their back on the songs they started with. And they don’t, as ‘St. Jude’ favourites ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and 'What Took You So Long?’ ensure mad scenes, even across the balcony where not one person is sat in their seats, despite the obvious pleas from security.
Often The Courteeners get tarred with the "lad rock" brush, however it’s not just lairy football lads here tonight, the crowd is made up of people from all walks of life. Even though the crowd couldn’t get much more enthusiastic, it’s not lairiness, it’s seemingly a lot of love for the band on stage. Everybody is helping each other up when they go down, lots of new friends are made, and we had a right blast.
Words by Paul Melbourne