LIVE: SOAK / Pillow Queens @ Band on the Wall, Manchester

By Tom Walsh

When walking through the rain-sodden streets of Manchester on a supposed spring evening, it can be easy to see where the inspiration for an album entitled ‘Grim Town’ eminates from.

Bridie Monds-Watson – aka SOAK – described the title of her 2019 album as being something that’s “a bit shit”. She imagines ‘Grim Town’ to be a place where hope fades and the dreams you once harboured find their final resting place. On evenings like this, Monds-Watson’s adopted home for the past two years can certainly epitomise these feelings.

It has been a heady rise for SOAK with debut album ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream’ receiving critical acclaim and landing Monds-Watson the honour of being the youngest-ever recipient of a Mercury Prize nomination. Armed with a new record, SOAK has moved from indie-folk origins to almost straight-up pop, but with the foreboding sense that we are all aboard the southbound Lassitude 432 to Grim Town.

Another contemporary making waves on both sides of the Irish Sea is support act Pillow Queens. In a typically energetic set, the four-piece air favourites from 2018’s ‘State of The State’ EP such as ‘Puppets’ and a roaring rendition of what is quickly becoming their own anthem, ‘Rats’. However, tonight’s warm-up slot presents an opportunity to showcase new material.

Both ‘HowDoILook’ and ‘Brothers’ build on the infectious hook-laden tracks familiar from previous EPs, while the previously unaired ‘Liffey’ provides a heartfelt ode to their home city (although there was some on-stage debate as to what the actual title was). Ending on the soaring ‘Gay Girls’, this short and sweet set has the audience clamouring for a Pillow Queens LP to surface.

The announcement for the Lassitude 432 to Grim Town plays over the speaker system and there is a hushed silence as Monds-Watson introduces SOAK’s evening performance. Dedicating the forthcoming set to Manchester’s famous LGBTQ club G-A-Y and the delights of Allen’s Fried Chicken on Portland Street, SOAK open with ‘Get Set Go Kid’.

Despite every space in Band on the Wall being taken up, there is an almost awe-inspiring quiet with Monds-Watson seducing each audience member. There is a humour and humility about her demeanour, with jokes about the turmoil that comes with being in the middle of her parents’ divorce.

Her voice echoes through the space with every word being clung onto by those in attendance. The tracks sway from the candy pop dance number of ‘Knock Me Off My Feet’ to the heartbreaking ‘Valentine Shamalentine’; “I just wanted to do something nice for Valentine’s Day, once, was that too much to ask?” Monds-Watson jokes.

The airing of latest single ‘Deja vu’ simply highlights that this is the pop anthem you haven’t heard yet, while ‘YBFTBYT’ sees Monds-Watson jokingly bemoan “that mate that only smokes when they’re in a big group”. Returning with the delicate piano-led ‘Missed Calls’ and the tear-inducing ‘Everybody Loves You’ merely demonstrates why SOAK is such a critically-acclaimed collective.

Monds-Watson’s words “‘cause I’m a fucking live wire, and I can light the night” float over the audience and, on a night where it’s at its worst, SOAK light up Manchester.