Neck Deep Bring ‘Rain In July’ To Manchester | Live Review

Photo: Nat Wood

Rebellion, Manchester, August 17 2023

Last night’s Neck Deep show got cut short because it was so hot and sweaty that frontman Ben Barlow had to leave the stage to throw up. Tonight, in Manchester, we’re ready for round two. 

In honour of the tenth birthday of the band’s ‘Rain in July’ and ‘A History of Bad Decisions’ EPs, they’re throwing a no-barrier party for a few choice cities in the UK – at last, after we watched Texas get to rage at these shows first. Anticipation is high, and already, Neck Deep are giving us everything an anniversary show should give. Though Rebellion’s capacity is just over 500, the queue for their archival merch sale stretches from Manchester emo haunt Grand Central, where it’s being held, all the way up to Oxford Road station and beyond, attended by far more than the 500 who’ll pack out the show later on. 

No barrier shows are a rare treat, especially for bands the size of Neck Deep, who played the 4000-cap Victoria Warehouse last time they headlined in Manchester, alongside a healthy arena tour alongside Yungblud. But tonight, they get to play the scrappy, sweaty, bodies-flying show that the bright-eyed teenagers from Wrexham dreamed of when they wrote these songs. 

Given the energy and the venue, it’s absolutely fitting that they’ve brought Leeds hardcore outfit Higher Power along to get us appropriately in the mood. Their stomping energy and deliciously dense riffs are enough to rouse the audience into a few spin kicks and circle pits, as we get loosened up in preparation for the show to come. There’s a bit of restraint in the crowd, but vocalist Jimmy Wizard’s versatility and cool demeanour is just as enjoyable to watch from the back as it is to thrash around to down the front.

Photo: Nat Wood

OK, so we’ve had a taste of the hardcore gang of mates side of Neck Deep’s musical history to get us on the right nostalgic level for the anniversary. But just in case we aren’t 100% there, Neck Deep do provide a brief 2008 pirated-to-your-mp3-player essential playlist of emo hits before their set. Two Taking Back Sundays, a My Chem, and Sum 41 later, out they come and tonight can begin in earnest. Though Rebellion’s L-shaped room has a TV screen to ensure those at the back and slightly round the corner can still see, no one came here to watch the action on a screen when Neck Deep are playing a slice of 2013 right over there, so it’s wall-to-wall elated shoving and squeezing as they explode into ‘Kick It’. 

“We didn’t plan these shows for months for you to stand still!” frontman Ben Barlow prods cheerfully – not that anyone was, but Ben cajoles us into the set’s first attempt at a circle pit before ‘Silver Linings’ hits. It’s not quite a success, with far too much riotous energy to keep anything so organised as a circle going, and devolves back into pushing, throwing elbows and leaping around almost instantaneously – the density is needed, to keep up with the onslaught of bodies that boomerang on and off the stage for the entire duration of Neck Deep’s presence. 

It’s not lost on anyone in attendance, nor on the band, that this is as close as this tour gets to a hometown show. “Manchester has always been a very special place to us, a de facto hometown,” Ben announces, clad in a Manchester United footy top for the occasion too. “The first show we ever played was at Sound Control – and Manchester is turning out right now!” And he’s met with screams from people who were at those very first shows. The band are a group of giddy little kids as they churn through ‘What Did You Expect’ and ‘Over and Over’, utterly at ease leading the chaos.

Photo: Nat Wood

There’s a sense that they’d have been satisfied no matter what else Neck Deep achieved had they been able to play shows like this, tiny rooms saturated with sheer energy, and nothing else, forever. It throws everything they’ve achieved on top of that into vast perspective – tonight isn’t just a party for ‘Rain in July’, it’s a party for everything that ‘Rain In July’ led to – “we started in a tiny bedroom. Even THINKING that we would do this… that this would happen on a whim, like it was nothing!” Ben tells us in one of his many impassioned inter-song ramblings. 

One of the sweetest comes before a deafening crowd-assisted rendition of ‘Head to the Ground’: “About ten years ago… I met a girl I’m now engaged to. She’s here tonight – I knew it from the start, and I wrote this song after months of being together. Fans have walked down the aisle to this song, I feel like Ed Sheeran!” Conversely, before fan-favourite ‘A Part Of Me’, Ben tells us “I don’t remember who I wrote this about… and she doesn’t still have a part of me by the way!” He remarks on how little the song now means to him – but on how special it is how much it means to us. 

In between the intensity of the energy, feet flying towards the ceiling, getting lovingly smashed around and belting our lungs out, there are some really wholesome moments within the crowd, too. The gratitude and symbiosis between Neck Deep and their audience is constantly evident – in the high fives, hugs, and mic lends dished out to those who get hurled onto the stage, in the fact that people are allowed to stay on stage for an indulgently long time before flinging themselves off, the affectionate (and sorely needed) dousing of water the band sprays the crowd with before ‘All Hype No Heart’. Two girls in the crowd hesitate for a second before going up for their first crowd surf, and land on the stage holding hands. Handbags dropped on the floor are good-naturedly reunited with their owners, who are instructed by Ben to “come get your shit!”.

Photo: Nat Wood

The atmosphere only peaks more after a classic faux closer (“pretend we’ve walked off. Say one more song! OK you can stop the bullshit.”) and Neck Deep round off the anniversary show with a whistle-stop greatest hits set. From the classics (‘Motion Sickness’, ‘Gold Steps’, ‘December’ and ‘In Bloom’) to the live debut of new, alien-themed cut ‘Take Me With You’. which promises itself as a future favourite based on response tonight, it feels like a victory lap. A victory lap ahead of the victory lap they’ve got coming in October, with further RIJ shows set for Glasgow, Cardiff, and Leeds, and a landmark Ally Pally show due in March. It’s all victory with these guys, and no signs of slowing down – but they’ve got a minute to glance back at where they came from, and the view is nice.

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