2016 represents something of a milestone year for The Coral. Hard as it may be to believe, this year saw them celebrate their twentieth anniversary as a band and fifteenth since their first release ('Shadows Fall') came out in the summer of 2001. Indeed, it doesn't seem that long ago (February 2002) that they were sharing a stage with Andrew WK, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Lostprophets on an NME Awards Tour. Time flies when you're having fun I guess. Not that it's been plain sailing for the Wirral based five-piece. While their popularity undoubtedly peaked around the time of 2003's Magic And Medicine and 2005's The Invisible Invasion, they've retained something of a hardcore fanbase throughout their career even if the casual Radio One listeners deserted them many moons ago. One of The Coral's most endearing qualities has been a reluctance to conform or rest on their laurels, and with eighth album Distance Inbetween they've become somewhat rejuvenated, having reinvented themselves as a heavy psychedelic rock band. Nevertheless, for an outfit accustomed to playing Academy sized venues and beyond, tonight's show at the intimate 1000 capacity Kasbah is something of a coup for the venue and there's a feverish sense of anticipation in the air long before James Skelly and co take to the stage.
Beforehand, it's left to Birmingham trio Cut Glass Kings and hotly tipped Mancunian outfit Cabbage to entertain those who've beaten the Monday evening rush hour and arrived early. While the former's take on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's anthemic rock and roll chagrin is passable if a little predictable, Cabbage are an entirely different prospect altogether. Having just been named among the BBC's Sound Of 2017 longlist - often a graveyard for bands whose uncompromising nature doesn't quite fit in with daytime Radio One's schedule - there's already an overwhelming sense of expectation surrounding the band. Chaotic in parts yet somewhat assured throughout, they're like a northern Fat White Family without the class A drug addictions (yet). Songs like 'Uber Capitalist Death Trade' and 'Indispensable Pencil' could quite easily have sat on the aforementioned's Champagne Holocaust which is nothing to be ashamed of, musically at any rate.
What sets them apart from many of their peers and indeed pretty much every other band we've witnessed this year is the scattergun approach they interject into their live set; dual frontmen Lee Broadbent and Joe Martin swap and share vocal duties, sometimes during the same song. Former singles 'Kevin' and 'Dinner Lady' unsurprisingly receive the loudest cheers but it's the closing couplet of 'Necroflat In The Palace' - a song about shagging dead bodies in Buckingham Palace that has a chorus of "I was born in the NHS, I wanna die in the NHS" - and 'Free Steven Avery (White America) - sample lyric "Death to Donald Trump, there's something about politics in America!" - that steal the show. Having spent the majority of 2016 on the road playing around 200 shows in the process, they've earned the subsequent plaudits bestowed upon them. 2017 beware - Cabbage are coming for you.
Even before a note is struck, it's glaringly obvious that the 2016 version of The Coral is very different to the one that so unsuspectingly landed amidst a sea of nu metal and Strokes hype fifteen years earlier. With their long hair, kaftan scarves, paisley shirts, and Chelsea boots, they look like refugees from 1967 San Francisco via Andy Warhol's Factory and in Distance Inbetween have created a soundtrack befitting of such a guise. Critically acclaimed by numerous publications and rightly so, it marks the beginning of another chapter for a band who've always defied stereotyping even when it was the safest and most lucrative option.
Kicking off with 'Chasing The Tail Of A Dream' and 'White Bird' off the current album, The Coral set their stall out immediately, displaying a more taut and somewhat heftier side to their already experimental armoury. Older songs like 'Simon Diamond' and 'Calendars And Clocks' gain a new lease of life as a result, while another blast from the past, 'Bill McCai', also triumphs on its long-awaited return to the live set. Admittedly the poppier numbers such as 'Pass It On', 'In The Morning', and 'Dreaming Of You', which brings the encore and evening to a close, provide joyous singalong moments, but its the overtly leftfield 'Arabian Sand' that suggests The Coral knew which direction their music was taking a decade ago.
Hopefully the next twenty years will be just as unpredictable, uncompromising, and musically adventurous; The Coral are National Treasures, even if the nation at large hasn't realised it yet.