LIVE: WSTR / Between You & Me / Hey Charlie @ Deaf Institute, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

In a nice fairytale-style twist, it’s been exactly a year since WSTR last played Manchester’s 300 capacity Deaf Institute – but whilst a year ago they were filling the support slot, tonight they are headlining a sold out show. Their rapid progression through the ranks isn’t necessarily surprising, though; latest album ‘Identity Crisis’ took the band’s distinctive, fast-paced sound and injected infectious hooks by the bucket load, broadening their appeal without losing any of their spirit. A WSTR set practically comes with a guarantee of a good time, and tonight’s show holds the promise of something special.

Opening band Hey Charlie deliver well-rehearsed retro pop, with all three members taking on vocal duties for constant two and three part harmonies. It’s slick, but repetitive, and largely uninspiring – as a result, they don’t seem to attract much interest from the sparse early crowd (aside from one rowdy punter near the bar). Hey Charlie are sure to find a market for their distinctive style, but it’s unlikely to feature many of tonight’s attendees.

Australia’s Between You & Me are on their first tour of the UK, and emerge to a still fairly muted audience – but it couldn’t be a more different story by the end of their nine song set, made up primarily of tracks from debut album ‘Everything Is Temporary’. Though it takes a little while for the room to really warm up, BYAM are relentless in the pursuit of crowd participation – and in the end, it turns out there’s no lack of fans awaiting the chance to join in with the singalongs on this joyous, infectious brand of pop punk. Finishing with the eminently scream-alongable ‘Dakota’, vocalist Jake Wilson takes the opportunity to clamber onto the balcony and leap down for ultimate crowdsurfing (and crowdpleasing) points in a moment that defines the lively nature of this band. BYAM are an absolute delight to watch and put on a solid performance – if you love pop punk, it’s definitely time to pay attention to these Aussies.

There’s no mistaking that it’s a sold out show by the time WSTR take to the stage; the room is absolutely heaving, with most people reluctant to take to the tiered seating area at the back. It’s understandable – WSTR are definitely not a band to sit politely to… And it’s probably helpful if you don’t value your personal space too much, either. Opening with two tracks from ‘Identity Crisis’, the response is such that it’s hard to believe the album was only released a little over three months ago – ‘Tell Me More’ leaps into the impossibly catchy, bouncing ‘Riddle Me This’, and bounce is exactly what the entire floor does.

There’s an early dampener on the mood as venue security put a quick halt to any crowdsurfing and shoulder-climbing antics, but the eager crowd are quick to make up for it in other ways. “When we jump, you jump,” vocalist Sammy Clifford insists, “when we go crazy, you go crazy!” Nobody seems to really need this encouragement, though; as the opening notes of ‘Footprints’ play, the entire room is engulfed by a pit – a common theme for the remainder of the evening.

The show is dripping in snarling but good-humoured attitude; this is, satisfyingly, pop punk that definitely hasn’t forgotten about the punk. As the band bounce back and forth between songs from their two albums, along with a dip into earlier EP ‘SKRWD’, there’s a perfect balance between poppier hooks and no-holds-barred, drum-thrashing aggression. There’s only a brief spell of quiet for the mellow ‘See You In Hell’ – WSTR may have promised never to do this kind of acoustic number, but there’s a definite need for a break from the pace (before absolutely everyone passes out), and it’s a unifying, singalong moment.

The night’s sadly not without technical demons, as Clifford seems to be plagued by issues with his in-ears – though he does well to disguise it as much as possible, it reaches a peak during first encore track ‘Crisis’ and results in him dropping vocals for a significant portion of the track. The fans are more than happy to fill in, but it’s a shame for technical troubles to affect this otherwise full-energy performance.

As the set is drawn to a close with ‘Red, Green Or Inbetween’ track ‘Lonely Smiles’, there’s a sense of joy permeating the room and little sign of the pit slowing down; everyone is enjoying this night as much as the band themselves appear to, and the fun is infectious. The intimacy of a venue like Deaf Institute suits WSTR’s style and has that glorious, sweaty, community vibe – yet there’s little doubt that they have the energy and skill to captivate a far larger room. With performances like this, there’s even less doubt that they’ll be selling those out in the near future, too.