The Sensational Francis Dunnery Band - Club Academy, Manchester

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:
The Sensational Francis Dunnery Band - Club Academy, Manchester
The Sensational Francis Dunnery Band - Club Academy, Manchester

It's January, the month where gigs and live happenings are sparse on the ground. Thankfully though it's the annual return of Francis Dunnery to the UK live scene, with the Eat Me In St Louis album the focus of attention this year. With only Paul Brown for company from last year's lineup personnel changes can easily affect the unity and cohesion of a band, especially with the very limited amount of rehearsal time available before the gig, but thankfully there are no issues here with the band gelling impeccably, seeming like they've been strutting the live circuit together for years.

Up first in support are Clayton-Ellis, a power-pop three-piece from New Jersey. Though the speed and energy of the band are evident from the start, the opening couple of tracks are rather stifled by a reliance of elements of Frat Pop, with lyrics such as “always hated all your friends and you're no good for me” drawing towards Avril Lavigne and early Blink 182, with the Rockabilly Sex Pistols stance seeming a bit dated. However 'Burning Up' is a huge improvement, with much more focus and energy and tinges of melancholy added to the raw but melodious backing, helping to carry the set along. There are hints of The Presidents of the United States of America in the guitar and drum dynamics, as the set speeds to its conclusion, but it's Amanda Lewis' rumbling bass tones, especially the Kim Gordon atonal noises, that add significant depth to the band,

The expectation is feverish from the packed-out audience for Francis Dunnery and a hilarious recorded introduction, (a spot-on impersonation of Peter Dickson's booming voice-overs for X-Factor), gets the crowd going, before the band launches into the full-on rock of 'Positively Animal'. A great, bludgeoning opener that the crowd instantly engages with, and as with most of the set, sings along to belting accompaniment. Fan favourite 'Underneath Your Pillow' follows, with the audience singing in unison. There is great power from the band especially in the beautiful, synth-heavy outro.

As per last year's tour, audience members are invited onstage at regular intervals to sing along, though this time greeted in a strange musical interlude by a man dressed in a gorilla suit serving water, before songs such as the rocking 'Til The End Of Time', are launched into

Though this is Francis' show, he receives fantastic support from an immensely powerful backing band. Guitar virtuoso Luke Machin harmonises perfectly with Francis' guitar, adding subtle textures underneath the music, Pete Jones' keys and synths are fulsome and dynamic, with a more reflective solo on several tracks, with both providing excellent and complementary backing vocals to Francis' lead, and the driving rhythm section of bassist Paul Brown and drummer Donovan Hepburn provides a tight and natural sounding partnership, that adds a Steely Dan sweetness to the performance from time-to-time, whilst keeping true to the Eat Me In St Louis album.

Though Francis is a rocker at heart and there's plenty of evidence to show this on the riffage of heavier numbers such as 'Sister Sarah', 'Murder Of The Planet Earth' and a thunderous version of Necromandus' 'Marijuana Make Those Eyes At Me For', it's the plaintive moments on the quieter numbers which are the star of the show. 'People Of America' which tonight becomes People Of Manchester has a beautiful call-and-response with the audience, the singalong shanty of 'Plastic Dreamer' resonates perfectly around the room, 'The Ice Melts Into Water', with luscious synths and high-end bass, backing Francis' vulnerable vocals, is as mesmerising live as it is on record, and a rendition of 'Charlie' during the encore has Francis employing his tapboard in a style not dis-similar to Mark Tramner's alter ego of GNAC, to a deeply emotional effect.

The highlight though is the surprise rendition of Frank Zappa's 'Black Napkins', a restrained and tender instrumental number that neatly showcases Francis' exquisite guitar skills, as notes are bent with yearning heartbreak, with his backing band providing almost-jazz like support, to an exceptional level. It's the space left between the chords that makes it stand out even more, with the audience almost in freeze-frame between each expectant note.

Closing the main set with 'Let Us All Go', Luke Machin is left onstage to demonstrate his own lead guitar prowess, as Francis comedically tries to order him off to no avail and it's left to support act Clayton-Ellis to act as security and 'persuade' Luke to leave.

With a rollicking 'Frankenstein Monster' and the contrasting 'Charlie' in the encore, the regular closure 'Still Too Young To Remember' is the finale to tonight's brilliant set, with the audience in full vocal force as all performers tonight appear in various guises, such as the return of the Peter Gabriel Foxtrot mask and even a pantomime horse.

Due to It Bites' untimely split just after the release of Eat Me In St Louis, many of the songs from the album have never seen the light of day in a live setting, so it's been a pleasure for fans to hear them, as well as a number of b-sides accompanying singles from the album, played so proficiently and effortlessly by an exciting band, as evidenced by the audience's reactions to each track and the tremendous buzz around the place that continued well after the band departed.

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