WSTR – Deaf Institute, MANCHESTER (11 TH December 2018)

As 2018 winds down, it’s worth reflecting on just how good a year it’s been for WSTR (waster).  A quality pop-punk album released in ‘Identity Crisis’, overseas tours supporting friends Neck Deep, and their own headlining shows on these shores. It’s been 12 months to the day since WSTR supported ROAM in this room. Now back as headliners, with tickets sold out, it’s the perfect opportunity to showcase their personal growth.

Before that though, Hey Charlie are charged with getting the party started. Combining all the best elements of 90’s alt-rock, grunge, indie and low-fi; their sound is a welcome change from what the pop-punk faithful might be used to. However, the performance is delivered with such visible joy; guitarist Lizz and bassist Sophie are all knee-slides and head-wind mills. They will undoubtedly have made a few new friends this evening. While it may be lazy to make a comparison to Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, it’s hard not to with their grungy sound, and undoubted stage presence. The three-piece is completed by the excellent drumming and between song banter of drummer Lauren. They’re definitely a band hitting their musical stride, and on the cusp of something brilliant.

Up next are Aussie pop-punk upstarts, Between You and Me. Hitting the stage to WWE’s D-Generation X theme, it’s clear that this set will pack a punch. The band don’t disappoint, with opening number ‘Overthinking’ delivering a bombastic slab of saccharine alt-rock, which turns the audience into one giant circle pit.

Label-mates of the headliners, Between You and Me are the quintessential Hopeless Records pop-punk band. Every number featuring a sing-a-long chorus, chugging guitars, and good times. Numbers from latest release ‘Everything is Temporary’ go down a storm; especially the nostalgic ‘Friends From ‘96’ and the raging ‘Hey Dakota’. The set is capped off with the hair-raising moment when frontman Jake Wilson stage dives from the venue’s first-floor balcony. Luckily, revellers are on hand to catch him, turning this into a moment of triumph, and earning Between You and Me a few new fans in the process.

Before WSTR make their way to the stage; a creepy voiceover, based on the artwork of latest release Identity Crisis rumbles through the PA. Encouraging the crowd to ‘play the game’; this audience hardly needs any encouragement to get excited for the headliners.

After the intro plays out, WSTR hit the stage to ‘Identity Crisis’ opener ‘Tell Me More’. Just as the track kicks off the album like a shot of adrenaline; the song triggers the entire audience into moshing, pogoing, or simply hurling themselves at the stage. WSTR instantly create a frenetic energy, which, while palpable during the opening acts, is on an entirely different level during their opening number. So much so, that frontman Sammy Clifford is forced to do some housekeeping, and inform revellers that crowd-surfing is forbidden in the tiny venue.

Health and safety aside, WSTR do not let up once during their set. With two albums and an EP under their belt, there is a growing arsenal of material to choose from; Limp Bizkit covers are now very much a distant memory.

‘Riddle Me This’ and ‘Footprints’ from ‘Identity Crisis’ and ‘Red ,Green or In Between’ respectively, hit home like the pieces of straight-up pop-punk that they are. Clifford is all flailing limbs, as he encourages the crowd to participate at every level. This pop-punk precisely as it should be, and there is a very real argument to be made that no-one is currently doing it better than WSTR.

The contrast from last year’s support slot is very sharp indeed. WSTR have always put effort into their live show, but last year they were visibly tired from 18 months of touring their previous record, and the graft that goes into being a support act on a smaller tour. Jump to today, and the band are energy personified, Clifford’s vocals have improved immeasurably-no longer nasal and faltering in places-and, above all, he looks much better in himself. Visibly trim, skanking across the stage, and looking every inch the rock star in his skinny jeans, sans tee shirt, he’s clearly in his element right now. This struggle and redemption is audible on the band’s latest material, and is clearly showing in the live arena.

Wryly pointing out the pretence of the encore, the band briefly leaves the stage, only for the voiceover to make a return. Urging the ‘players’ to win one final round, or be trapped in the game forever, it’s a creative way to set up the closing tracks. Returning to the stage to ‘Crisis’, Clifford seems just as fresh as when he first hit the stage an hour or so ago. The crowd don’t let him down though, as they circle pit accordingly to the excellent ‘Silly Me’, and set closer ‘Lonely Smiles’.

It’s a triumphant end to a spectacular set, and another victory in a year full of them for WSTR. Based on tonight’s evidence, don’t expect them to be playing rooms of this size for too much longer.