Live Review

City Reign, The Castle Hotel, Manchester

Their performance is bold throughout and they do not shy away from reaching for arena-style moments.

After a couple of years gigging around some of Manchester’s finest musical establishments (The Ruby Lounge, Deaf Institute and Roadhouse to name a few), City Reign launch their debut album ‘Another Step’ on home turf at The Castle Hotel, a relic of 18th century drinking, which is now a regenerated hangout for local musos. Taking their name from the Ryan Adams song ‘City Rain, City Streets’, City Reign’s fine blend of Adams, The National and R.E.M, with a tip of a the hat to Doves, is the perfect antidote to the tired Madchester cliches.

Kicking off their set with ‘Anywhere Anyway’ and ‘Anchor’, the album opener City Reign display a knack for writing anthems with big riffs, big hooks and catchy backing vocals. The trend continues with ‘See What It’s Worth’ where lead singer Chris Bull lays into the 9 to 5 world who ‘get up every morning and work hard for things you don’t love.’ The lyrical menace is rightly teamed with distorted guitars and hammering drums and is the best example of City Reign at their rock n roll zenith.

Whilst the band exudes a low-key charm in the vocal exchanges between lead singer and lead guitarist Michael Grice, their performance is bold throughout and they do not shy away from reaching for arena-style moments. ‘The Line’ should come with a hazard sign ‘Warning: Leona Lewis may one day murder this song’; but that should be taken as a compliment. ‘Retaliate’ also shows an emotional maturity that is rare in a young band; with singer Bull laying his guitar down to sing ‘I’m no stranger to feelings of confusion’ over a stripped back arrangement. It is as beguiling as the album version, which features a string quartet, and the warm and earthy vocals go a long way to filling the Roddy Woomble-shaped gap in your heart.

Over the space of 45 minutes, City Reign go from the urgent to the understated and they’re not afraid of making different musical pit stops en-route. The closing number and recent single ‘Making Plans’ has the pop-punk drive of Blondie’s ‘One Way or Another’ and the new tracks, tentatively titled ‘Real’ and ‘Disappear’, hint that the band may soon find themselves further afield in grungier Desert Session territory.

Overall, City Reign tonight showcase a debut album that is as rich and satisfying live as it is on record. If Manchester is searching for a young band to follow the alternative road to success paved by the likes of Elbow, City Reign are taking their first steps in the right direction.

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