The Maine @ New Century Hall review – A ‘sweet sixteen’ celebration of Arizona greats

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To celebrate 16 years of their music, The Maine take the road for a limited number of shows in the UK and Europe. After stops in Cologne and Amsterdam, tonight marks Manchester’s visit.

Under the enigmatic ceiling of New Century Hall, a voice over the speakers orders the crowd to “adjust your enthusiasm in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”, for Nottingham-based support act, Lacey. The band’s frontman, Graham Turner, bounds on stage with a bouncing mane of straw-blonde locks. As the music kicks in, it becomes immediately apparent that Lacey have taken a leaf out of the You Me At Six playbook.

“Manchester, it’s a pleasure to be back inside you”, Turner declares. The innuendo doesn’t quite get the reaction he’s hoping for: “Lacey life tip… We’re all human beings, we all feel things.” The intention is good, but the execution is underwhelming. When The Maine arrive later and frontman John O’Callaghan shares his own musings, they seem overwhelmingly sincere in contrast, a natural profundity that unfortunately, Lacey haven’t quite mastered.

The ‘banter’ with the crowd does slightly improve towards the set’s tail-end, and Turner can clearly laugh at himself. I’m sure Kerrang kids of the 2010s would have welcomed Lacey onto their iTunes with open arms, but in the rich musical landscape of the current day, their monotonous blueprint doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

There’s not long to wait before the lights dim once again. Against the sprawling backdrop of silver tinsel and beneath the twinkling mass of a disco ball, The Maine emerge one by one: Jared, Garrett, John, Pat and Kennedy. “Our band is called The Maine and we’re from Phoenix, Arizona”, John slips into opening number, ‘dose no. 2’. The statement is a nod to longtime fans, those who have followed the band’s lore from the start. It makes another appearance before the final two songs, the phrase book-ending the third night on this momentous tour celebrating the past sixteen years of the band.

In this spirit, the setlist pulls from all nine of The Maine’s albums, from Can’t Stop Won’t Stop to their eponymous 2023 release. To pre-cursor tracks off the former, John embraces the throwback of a throwback Thursday: “This is another one from our MySpace days.” There’s reference to the fact that both the band, and the crowd, are feeling old – the former stated and the latter questioned. It’s true, a decade and a half has passed since The Maine formed, but people still sing along to every word as they’re mentally taken back to their teenhoods. 

John is equal parts formidable and forthcoming as a frontman, engaging with members of the audience on numerous occasions between impassioned vocal performances. A few of those lucky enough to catch his eye are a newly wed couple, bandana-donning Jerry and someone in the front row who has come with friends but isn’t necessarily familiar with every song on the setlist (“he knows it, the cheeky fucker!”, John exclaims of the latter during ‘Like We Did (Windows Down)’).

The most enjoyable of these interactions comes during ‘Girls Do What They Want’. John picks Brummy Tom to join him on the stage to sing the chorus with him. “He’s said he’s come with his girlfriend, he doesn’t know the words!”, John laughs. It’s no matter, as the crowd is behind Tom every step of the way, who quickly picks up the words and bows post-performance before exiting stage right to chants of “Tom, Tom, Tom!”.

American Candy material is notably well received; almost the entirely of the first verse of ‘Diet Soda Society’ is bellowed so loudly by the crowd that O’Callaghan needn’t do much, while album closer ‘Another Night on Mars’ is a resonating, heart-swelling love letter to friendship that makes it into the set: (“what’s another night on Mars, with friends like ours anywhere is home”).

From this same album comes a song showdown – using a decibel meter, the five-piece put it to the crowd to make as much noise as possible to rally for whether ‘English Girls’ or Am I Pretty?’ gets the live treatment. The latter comes out victorious. This is yet another personal touch that provides the evening with a particular intimacy, despite the hall’s sold-out 1,300+ capacity. 

From their older material, Black & White’s ‘Saving Grace’ and Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’s ‘Everything I Ask For’ are performed stripped back, the latter marked by the illumination of the band with a wealth of phone torches. Lovely Little Lonely’s ‘Black Butterflies and Déjà Vu’ and ‘Don’t Come Down’, meanwhile, retain the buoyant rhythms of their recorded equivalents, the former receiving one of the most deafening sing-along reactions of the evening. 

The Maine have come a long way from their high school days back in 2007, as have the fans who congregate this evening. Sure, it’s nostalgic, but not in a 90s comeback reunion tour kind of way. Instead, it stands to honour the progression of their sound over time and appreciate who they are as a band in the current day, the choice to self-title their 2023 album speaking to this – it has indeed been the sweetest of 16 years. 

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Jennifer Grace

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