A Courteeners homecoming Christmas gig has become almost a rite of passage these days.
Last year saw three sold out nights at the Apollo, 2010 was the Arena, and 2009 was Manchester Central.
The Middleton band clearly inspire devotion from their fellow Mancunians, and a packed Arena was treated to a near 2-hour career spanning set.
Walking onto Richard Strauss’s bombastic ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ – famed for its use in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – only hightened expectations.
“Shall we do it?” asked Liam Fray. The deafening screams seemed to signify a resounding yes.
And so they opened with ‘The Opener’. Who’d have thought it? ‘Ive been away I’ve been working, but now I am back’ seem pretty relevant lyrics for the band at the moment.
They have been holed up in the studio putting the final touches to new album ‘Anna’, set for release this Feburary.
Of the four new tracks aired, lead single ‘Lose Control’ seems the most likely to lead an assault on the Top 20.
‘Money’ and ‘Push Yourself’ hinted at the new direction Fray has said ‘Anna’ will represent, with the former sounding positively rockabilly, but ‘Welcome To The Rave’ stays closer to the previous indie-pop formula.
But, in fairness, no-one was there for those tracks. Even before the roadies had finished tuning their last guitar, the crowd were practising their ‘What Took You So Long’ chants.
‘Kings of the New Road’ sounded as fresh as ever, ‘Cavorting’ sent the pulses running and ‘If It Wasnt For Me’ is still the anthem it always was.
Things really kicked off when a flare was lit, more reminiscant of a football match than a gig. The band have filled an Oasis-sized gap in the Manchester scene, and perhaps the final frontier in this changing of the guard is a summer Heaton Park gig?
As he did in 2010, Fray turned up on the sound-desk at the other end of the Arena and performed an acoustic solo set, giving a nod to how he orginally started out, as a Mancunian troubadour marauding the city’s bars and clubs.
Only at this point, with the lights on, do you realise how far the group has come. Early gigs at the Ritz, Roadhouse and Academy seem a million miles away when 17,000 fans scream every word back at you.
Drummer Michael Campbell, guitarist Daniel Moores, bassist Mark Cuppello and keyboardist Adam Payne rarely get the credit they deserve, but they make the band what they are.
Fray craves and cultivates the publicity, but their belt and braces work cements their status as a captivating live band.
Closing with ‘Aftershow/Kimberley’, ‘Take Over The World’, ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘What Took You So Long’, they remind anyone who didn’t already know that they have the city in the palm of their hands.
Presuambly Fray and co. hope that they can finally take this adoration at home to the next level and transfer it nationwide.