London, Electric Ballroom, 14th May | Manchester, Gorilla, 16th May | Glasgow, SWG3, 17th May
By Chris Monan and Jedrzej Jedraszyk
Chris: I was incredibly late to the American Football party given that I was eight years old when the eponymous album was released and discovered them thanks to something as innocuous as a tee shirt. A friend of mine happened to be wearing one of their shirts to a gig we were both attending and I asked him what it was all about, thinking that it was in reference to the sport of the same name. He told me that they were actually his favourite band and that his own band, Bianca had taken a lot of influence from them (www.biancayouidiot.bandcamp.com). Given that I really enjoy the music that he makes, I decided I would check them out and quickly developed an obsession.
The first track I listened to was ‘Honestly?’ and that overdriven section two minutes in still gives me chills. Everything about their all-encompassing sound, from the rhythmic complexities of ‘Never Meant’, to the interwoven guitar work of ‘The One With The Tambourine’ and the plaintive vocals on ‘For Sure’ stirs up the rare feeling that I’m listening to a truly perfect body of work.
Jędrzej: American Football hold a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because of their degree in broken heart medicine, maybe because of how accurately they managed to convey the adolescent life full of anxieties and uncertainties. Anyway, since I got to know them, around two or three years ago, I have quickly grown to be the part of this little AF cult that gathered around Illinoisans. When they announced the reissue of their debut album, after fifteen years from the original release in 1998, I couldn’t hold my excitement. I patiently anticipated more and I got much more than I could ever imagine. After a successful tour around the USA, they finally decided to come to the UK which was basically a dream coming true. I never in my wildest dreams expected a chance to see them live, but there it was – a gig in Manchester, right on my birthday!
WHAT WE EXPECTED
Chris: I never thought that I would see American Football live in a million years, even after they announced that they were reforming for a run of US shows so when they announced a short tour of the UK. I counted myself incredibly lucky to have walked away with a ticket for the first show in London, which would also be their first ever show in the UK. To my delight they also announced another gig in my home town of Glasgow shortly thereafter due to the sheer demand from fans over Facebook and Twitter, which meant that over the course of two or three days I’d gone from never expecting to see them in my life, to seeing them twice in the same week. Needless to say I was delighted.
As the shows approached closer and closer, I felt a mixture of excitement and a certain degree of trepidation. What if they just couldn’t capture that feeling that makes listening to the record so special? Anyone who has seen the reformed Guns N’ Roses knows that horror, I imagine. By the time I got inside the venue, I’d put this entirely behind me as the weight of what I was about to experience hit me in full. One of my favourite bands, who I had thought consigned to the history books, was going to take the stage in about an hour and a half. How could this fail to be an incredible night for music?
Jędrzej: When the first footages of American Football gigs came out I was basically glued to the screen watching them over and over. I just couldn’t believe that this is actually happening. Not only they played the songs that meant a world to me, but also they played them not as college students, but as experienced musicians – the shift could be easily heard. Their sound became more sophisticated, but I was really afraid of one thing – 30-something dudes playing songs about teenage feelings? I had some serious doubts whether American Football are able to get on the same emotional level as their songs. Despite that I expected their Manchester gig to be a bomb full of feelings.
WHAT WE GOT
Chris: American Football walked on stage at the Camden Electric Ballroom amidst what I can only describe as a hero’s welcome. You could really feel the energy and excitement emanation from every single person in the crowd. From the second the opening note of ‘Five Silent Miles’ is plucked, the collective euphoria boils over and any worries I had were instantly dispelled. They sounded nostalgic, yet contemporary which conjured up the feeling of walking around in the sunshine without a single care in the world. Every single note is a cherished gift that hits you directly in the feelings. Suffice it to say that even 15 years on and old grown up, American Football haven’t lost the teenage angst ridden sincerity from their sound but there’s a certain feeling of refinement, perhaps from all the time the individual members have spent away from the band in a cornucopia of musical ventures. By the end of the set I was left completely drained with a big, stupid grin on my face.
The Glasgow show a week later was no less special for the fact that I was experiencing it for the second time. There was an amazing, celebratory atmosphere among the crowd and when Mike Kinsella fluffs the opening riff of ‘You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon’ someone in the crowd gleefully shouts “it’s alright, ah cannae play it either” which sets everyone, including the band off laughing. It didn’t matter at all that it wasn’t perfect, everyone in the room was incredibly appreciative of the fact that they were there. It was clear to me that they’re playing those old songs again simply because they love doing it and I’d wager there wasn’t a single person in either crowd who didn’t pick up on that. It was fun and a little goofy at times, but the experience was like nothing else. I must also give a special mention to TTNG, who provided the support on the night. It’s not often that they’d be the second best band on the bill!
Jędrzej: It was really a spot of luck that I actually managed to get the ticket to a show that sold out in 20 minutes. Then I was just counting days to the gig. My anticipation was reaching its limits, but finally the day of the concert came! I boarded the train and headed for the Gorilla club (I got there waaaay too early – just another result of my anticipation). The slowly gathering audience finally reached a number of around 200-300 people (a crude estimation really) which is not a surprise considering the underground status of American Football.
Illinoisans’ gig was preceded by a five song show by TTNG who acted as a support on the UK leg of the AF tour. They are a British math/emo trio known for their technical yet emotional songs and weird time signatures. They were greeted enthusiastically by the audience. Their set was a perfect warm-up for what was about to come.
After TTNG finished, the singer and bassist Henry Tremain thanked American Football for the opportunity of touring together and the stage lights dimmed. I could only see the crew switching the gear onstage. It was then that I noticed a huge banner behind the amps and the drum kit showing THE house – a crucial element for American Football fandom.
Finally, the headliners came on the stage greeted by a cheering roar and a wave of claps. Without any words they started off with “Five Silent Miles” and the magic had begun. The next hour and a half can only be described as a perfectly coordinated stream of feelings flowing from the amps right into the heart of every member of the audience. You could feel that Kinsella and the crew was comfortable playing the songs they composed in their late teens. They basically resolved any of my doubts about the genuineness of their reunion. It was like them going through their adolescence all over again, but with a distance and experience. American Football had loads of fun onstage, engaging in banter with the audience and downing cans of Red Stripe, but over all they took the whole thing, as seriously as if it was their first basement gig back in Chicago.
American Football basically played all of their songs from the debut and the EP. They also played “The 7’s” from the deluxe edition of the 2014 reissue. In between the tracks, the drummer, Steve Lamos filled the space with incredible trumpet loops which really built up the mood. The songs sounded much more energetic live than on the album. Also, Kinsella’s voice acquired a specific harshness and rasp to it which really did a lot for the emotional side of the show.
WATCH: AMERICAN FOOTBALL – NEVER MEANT (LIVE AT WEBSTER HALL, NYC, NY)
American Football finished off their concert with “Never Meant” – probably one of the most important songs in the lives of most of the audience members. A massive sing-along was therefore not a surprise. Having put the guitars and drumsticks away, American Football did one of these things that make you think of them as the coolest guys ever – they went down to the audience ready to be asked for loads of selfies and to answer loads of questions. It made the whole experience of the show, a real one and a genuine one. It was like them saying: “Hey, we ain’t no rockstars, we’re just a bunch of dudes who play a bunch of sad songs”. And I think this is why I love American Football so much.