With the 2016 First Utility Super League Grand Final only a matter of days away, all eyes in the rugby league world are now on Manchester. There, in a repeat of the showpiece event’s 2013 match, Warrington Wolves will look to secure their first league title in more than half a century against a resurgent Wigan Warriors side. But before the action kicks off – and in-between, when the teams are receiving a dressing down at half time – the expected seventy-thousand-plus crowd are in for a treat, as Welsh rock heroes Feeder headline the pre-match entertainment. One of Britain’s most pre-eminent rock groups of the millennium era, with hits such as Just the Way I’m Feeling, Buck Rogers, Feeling a Moment and Just a Day, Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose played an intimate sell-out show in the city earlier this week, at Manchester’s O2 Ritz, with Mantality writer Andrew Steel in attendance. Here, previously published on his blog thenorthernchords.blogspot.com, is his review of the show.

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There’s a point early on, twenty minutes into Feeder’s set at Manchester’s O2 Ritz, when frontman Grant Nicholas simply shouts “Pushing the Senses!” to the sold-out, 1,500-strong crowd. It’s not until he plucks the first notes of that iconic riff – embedded deeper into culture on the back of a Vauxhall advert some years ago – that it becomes apparent that this is not Pushing the Senses as we know it. Indeed, the nimble title track from the band’s 2005 album has been downtuned, transforming it from its light power-pop origins into a more foreboding, ferocious beast, that pummels the crowd with its pure wall of sound. Feeder have returned, but not as you’ve seen them in recent times.

Nicholas and Hirose are out to change these preconceptions though. Their return from an unexpected hiatus has not made waves in the press or the charts – as perhaps is to be expected in the current music climate – but with a new album entitled All Bright Electric, the band are out to reconcile their origins as guitar-shredding riff men with their modern dimensions of a genre-straddling unit. For most of their ninety-five-minute-plus set, they do just that, throwing not just hook-heavy metal at the crowd, but also Beatlesque melodies, post-rock soundscapes, trippy-southern-gothic-pop and a touch of referential shoegaze for good measure. It’s eclectic and mostly works.The duo of Nicholas and bassist Taka Hirose were, around the millennium, arguably Britain’s finest purveyors of pop metal. The furore over their 2005 headline appearance at Download, in hindsight, appears small-minded; these gentlemen, and their various drummers since the death of original Jon Lee in 2002, know how to rock, and rock hard. But Feeder haven’t particularly dabbled in truly hard music since 2001’s commercial breakthrough Echo Park, instead slowly conforming to a template of anthemic alt-rock pioneered by bands such as Coldplay in a post-Britpop world. Their genre shift is understandable – after all, most bands not called AC/DC do undergo stylistic changes –  but it’s been a while since you could call them remotely metal.

The biggest complaint to be made is about the setlist. They may have a record to promote, but with it yet to hit the shelves, it’s a ballsy call by the group to cull a third of their setlist from it. Some tracks are mesmerising, showcasing top-of-the-game songwriting, such as the moody opener Another Day on Earth; recent single Eskimo becomes a woozy psychedelic number that gives ways to the stoner-rock of QOTSA and The Dead Weather, all whiskey-drenched and devilish. Others, however, are rather unexciting; Geezer sounds like a mere pastiche of Geezer Butler’s lesser work, whilst Infrared-Ultraviolet feels like a painful, groaning chore. What makes it grating is their presence in place of other, older hits – no Comfort in Sound, Tumble and Fall or Borders. What should be concert staples are new material of varying quality, met with a mixed response.

But it can be forgiven for how tight and fresh they sound, particularly when recasting their older material. Accompanied by a drummer, rhythm guitarist and keyboard player, Nicholas and Hirose overcome a sometimes muddy sound mix to deliver stone-cold classics, played with a joyous passion. With lusty singalong Feeling a Moment perhaps their only classic hit not altered in some form, downtuning means that tracks such as Come Back Around and Insomnia sound more intense and visceral than they once did. Their most accomplished track Just the Way I’m Feeling suffers a little, its keening guitar lines lost underneath the chords – but when they tease out the intro to Buck Rogers through a shoegaze-haze, before restarting the bouncing power-pop anthem at full tilt, it’s impossible not to grin.

Before they finish, Feeder tease their next visit to Manchester – in front of a 70,000-plus crowd at Old Trafford for the Super League Grand Final between Warrington and Wigan on Saturday. If going by the reception they subsequently elicit with Just a Day, its bellowing chorus and bludgeoning riff deafening, Nicholas and Hirose need not worry about having to win over rugby fans. On the basis of tonight’s return, one thing is clear; Feeder the softly-spoken are dead. Long live the Feeder of old, resurrected in their loud, proud glory.

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