LIVE: Cory Wells / Luke Rainsford @ Gullivers, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

Nothing says Sunday night like a dark, humid room above a pub in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, filled with people in black t-shirts and beanies clutching increasingly warm pints. Well, maybe not to some, but to music fans, this is our odd sort of heaven – and drawing us out to our happy place tonight is Cory Wells, an artist who appeared on the UK’s radar late last year after a support slot with acoustic emo legend Dashboard Confessional. Wells released debut album ‘The Way We Are’ shortly after, and tonight is the final night of a two-week debut European headline tour; his soothing acoustic sounds drawing in not only Dashboard fans, but plenty of his own too.

Main support on the tour comes from the UK’s own Luke Rainsford – and if anyone deserves the British emo crown, it’s definitely this guy. Honesty, rawness and pain seeps through his lyrics, although his bright personality and the often upbeat music underpinning the words stop the set from being too sombre. Instead, it’s a calmly uplifting half hour of acoustic emo with a distinctively English spin, and though Rainsford may not be one of the biggest names in the scene yet, the emotive themes in songs like ‘Home Safe’ and ‘Frame’ resonate clearly with a passionate group of fans filling the front few rows – an unmistakable sign of an artist making music that truly matters.

It’s just the start needed before Los Angeles native Wells takes to the stage, and though tonight’s set is a short one at just under an hour, it’s enough time to cover a fair chunk of highlights from the music he’s released so far. Opening tracks ‘Distant’ and ‘Keiko’ are two such highlights, forming not only the start of this show but also debut ‘The Way We Are’. The soft, echoing lilt of ‘Distant’ fades into the beating heart of darkness and love found in ‘Keiko’; Wells is pitch perfect from the first note, each song tumbling with the ease and beauty of a stream through a silent forest, and the experience is truly immersive.

The addition of friend Chase Parsons on electric guitar elevates the tracks closer to their recorded counterparts, adding an extra dimension of melody that sinks deep beneath the skin – but what really makes Wells stand out from the wealth of acoustic artists out there is his voice, and never is that more clear than in his live performance. Beckoning with smooth, warm tones, Wells builds momentum almost solely with his vocal, funnelling emotion into the choruses with an edge and grit that brings to mind the crack of a voice holding back tears; in moments, he occasionally breaks through in phenomenally powerful, yet still melodic, screams and cries, echoing through the quietest and most awestruck of rooms.

Softly spoken and humble about his newfound success, Wells expresses a gratitude for where ‘Fear’ and ‘Avoid The Blame’ – his earliest releases, and the only tracks from tonight to not appear on ‘The Way We Are’ – have brought him. If he ever really doubted his ability to write more tracks of the same quality, there’s plenty in this set to prove otherwise. Nestled in the middle, ‘End Of A Good Thing’ and the upbeat, defiant ‘Wildfire’ see the crowd begin to open up and sing along, combining effortlessly catchy choruses with an infectious passion.  

As the night draws closer to the end, Wells shares the story behind penuiltimate track ‘Harbor’, giving further depth to its heartbreakingly raw lyrics; in this small room, it’s impossible to escape the emotion that ripples through the air and it’s an intense, but beautiful, few minutes before the crowd are swept away one final time with ‘Walk Away’.

Wells’ gift for songwriting is something that cannot be denied, weaving sincerity and beauty into songs of love and life, and his live performance is the kind that shines new love and appreciation on his words. Echoing the kind of passion that has made his former touring partner Dashboard Confessional so beloved, Wells brings a strength to the stage that, once seen, cannot easily be forgotten – and it’s comforting to know that this is still only the beginning for a performer who will surely find his way to the hearts of many more.