I've seen HMHB several times at Academy 2 over the road, but I was surprised to hear they'd made the transition to the glorious heights of Academy 1. Academy 2 has a capacity of about 400, Academy 1; well over 1000. I was a bit worried Nigel and the gang would be playing to a half full hall. When I arrived however, I was shocked to see the place absolutely heaving! With a very mixed crowd too, 40 something beer boys, whipper snapper students, a granny and a 12 year old somewhere among them too. What had happened? Had they suddenly got some mysterious and massive media coverage gone unnoticed on their eponymous web-site? I could not say, but given the six figures thick throng at the bar following Calvin Party leaving the stage (who I missed), this was a far bigger crowd than at any HMHB I'd been too before.
The band took the stage in their typical understated manner, shuffling on with "13 Eurogoths" in the background, setting up the guitar leads themselves, but the audience went nuts as soon as they were sighted. It was clearer still this was going to be quite the event. As HMHB kicked off into a storming version of "Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo", the excellent sound and great performance heralded what was to be a brilliant night.
It may have been my imagination but Nigel seemed slightly overwhelmed at the size of the crowd and the rapturous reception he was getting, though he seemed to get a hold on things a few songs in, making the odd witticism, including a strange skit about Eminem's "My Name Is", and numerous "spotting" local celebrities in the crowd (including BBC North West Tonight reporter Dave Guest, whether he was actually there is somewhat doubtful).
It was a fabulous and lengthy set-list, not a "greatest hits", but a good selection from across the years, with slightly more from This Leaden Pall than the others (last album aside.) Can't remember the order at all but the set-list was something like Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo; The Light at the End of the Tunnel; Numanoid Hang-glide; CORGI Registered Friends; Bob Wilson - Anchorman; the one about Steve Malkmus and Ken Barlow; Deep House Victims Minibus Appeal; For What is Chatteris; Running Order Squabble Fest; 4AD3DCD (clearly a long lost favourite); Bad Review; 4 Skinny Indie Kids; Turned Up, Clocked On, Laid Off; Look Dad No Tunes; 24 Hour Garage People; Paintball's Coming Home; Them's The Vagaries; Restless Legs; Fred Titmuss; the one new (very funny) one; Blue Badge Abuser (featuring an excellent yodel effect); Everything's AOR and Joy Division Oven Gloves
I've been to HMHB gigs with funnier in-between banter, and I've certainly been to a few with less fluffed lines than this one (Nigel was put off at one point by some wag shouting a Ramones-style "1-2-3-4!" at the bit where it stops in the middle of "4AD3DCD") but there was something about this occasion which made it stand out as one of the best ever; the novelty of the big crowd size, the real charge of enthusiasm. "24 Hour Garage People" went off on a very lengthy and funny tangent about the contents of the garage worker's i-Pod shuffle selection, "Paintball's Coming Home" had lots of extra and extra funny lines ("The didn't choose their cat, the cat chose them," They buy soup in cartons, not in tins....and worryingly I'm doing that now myself....") , and the bass sound was fantastic throughout, with Everything's AOR more impressive than ever. "Joy Division Oven Gloves", which I'm not that keen on on record, was a surging first closer, with Nigel classily dedicating it to "Mr Tony Wilson", the famed Manchester Factory Impressario who had announced a few days before the gig that he was suffering from cancer. The crowd, animated throughout, lapped it up even more.
And then, just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the band come on to do an encore, the first song of which turned out to be ("bear with us on this one..").....The Container Drivers, the excellent early single by The Fall! I go barmy with excitement at this (just as I did when I saw them, equally unexpectedly, doing "Transmission" for an encore back in 1997,) though great sections of the crowd clearly don't recognise the song and are bemused at this closing the show. Sod em; it was terrific! They then finally finished off with "We Built This City on a Trad. Arr Tune" with the crowd picking up once more on this latter-day favourite; before closing on the end "There is nothing better in life than writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro" bit. A climactic end to a fantastic night.