LIVE: Muncie Girls / The Hard Aches @ Deaf Institute, Manchester

By Tom Walsh

The first night of a tour brings with it a nervous tension for bands. Questions fly through the mind – will anyone turn up, will they like the new material, can we remember the older songs, are we going to actually sell any t-shirts? While bands have had these nights a thousand times before there is always a nagging thought that something could go wrong – something always go wrong.

So when Muncie Girls arrived at Manchester’s Deaf Institute to find a gig space out of bounds due to a leaking roof, it is met a knowing roll of the eyes and an “of course” sigh. However, when one door closes another opens and the demise of the original room means the Exeter trio are faced with an impromptu intimate show.

Tonight marks the beginning of a mammoth tour for Muncie Girls which will take them across the UK, mainland Europe and the US – starting in Manchester and ending on Beverly Boulevard in sunny Los Angeles. Their latest record ‘Fixed Ideals’ builds on the political and social observations of 2016’s ‘From Caplin To Belsize’, but offers a much more personal reflection from lead singer Lande Hekt and is starting to turn heads in the punk scene.

The downstairs bar of the Deaf Institute is already packed as Australia’s The Hard Aches make their live debut on British soil. Providing a similar to tone to The Menzingers, the duo showcase raw and immediate tracks from their latest album ‘Mess’. Tales of getting too drunk, waking up hungover and raging with self-doubt feature prominently through the rasping vocals of Ben David. Such is the enthusiasm of the audience, there is a sense that a lot of people have been waiting a long time for The Hard Aches to make landfall in the UK. Closing song ‘I Get Like This’ has everyone screaming “I get like this/when I get fucked up” along with David as he delivers a communal confessional.

Muncie Girls immediately address the elephant in the room and explain their confusion as to why they are playing in a bar, but the circumstances act as a blessing in disguise. This is a performance of inclusivity as Hekt’s words resonate with her audience. She speaks of frustration and fear of an emboldened far-right on the mocking ‘Jeremy’ while making frank admissions of her own anxiety on ‘Clinic’.

The intricate harmonising guitar work Dean McMullen and the addition of a touring bass player – allowing for Hekt to take on rhythm guitar duties – provides a fuller sound and allows the newer material to flourish. Naturally, a new tour comes with new ideas and Muncie Girls have opted to go bold by investing in a bubble machine.

While it very much hits the right note for ‘Bubble Bath’, the downside is that it is already causing a slip hazard with Muncie Girls’ bassist almost ending up head over heels in the front row. “Yeah I forgot we’d bought that”, Hekt admits.

Disaster averted, they close with the treat of ‘Respect’ capping the intimate performance that the notice on the Deaf Institute’s door had promised. Despite a leaking roof and an admittance of eating far too much before going on stage, Muncie Girls’ honest songs and unique performance make it all worthwhile.