SHERYL CROW and RED SKY JULY steam up Manchester

I saw SHERYL CROW perform in Tokyo back in 2002. The (14,000 plus capacity) arena was far too big for Crow and her band, several stands shut down for the occasion, and they simply disappeared into the onstage abyss that night. I was disappointed because, at the end of the day, she’s an incredibly talented singer, writer and guitarist, a number of her tracks epitomising hit music of the ’90s, and a key figure in the Lilith Fair movement, so you want to be able to watch her close up and hear every sound. 12 years on, the much smaller Manchester Ritz provides a more suitable location for the multi Grammy Award-winning genre-crossing artist, and I’m looking forward to having memories of the 2002 show replaced with something closer to the reality of a Sheryl Crow live show.

Arriving at the Ritz, we’re immediately greeted with the unusual direction that photographers (even those with official passes provided by management) are banned from entering the photo pit, forcing professional photographers with thousands of pounds of equipment swung around their necks to navigate the swilling-drink-filled crowds to capture shots. The fact that the ban is imposed also for the support band is mental, to say the least. Informed by security that this is not a venue decision, the assumption is that this is on the headliner’s instructions. Crow show Mark II isn’t starting off too well, but let’s see…

I’m delighted that RED SKY JULY are supporting Crow tonight. Comprising trio Shelly Poole (formerly of Alisha’s Attic), Charity Hair and Ally McErlaine, the band have been impressing with their live shows and their new Shadowbirds album.

Opening with the brilliant Losing You, they’re cramped together at the front of stage, surrounded by masses of Crow band gear, a bit unfortunate given that this causes them to perform in a tight unit without being able to utilise the greater part of the stage. This set-up doesn’t lend itself to engaging the crowd from the outset and it’s far too easy for the Manchester crowd geared up to see Crow to ignore what’s happening on stage. Talking loudly over every song in the set, the crowd make it almost impossible to hear the music or valiant attempts by the band to address their audience between songs.

I really feel for them, the chattering getting louder and louder as the venue fills to capacity. It could be that the Red Sky July word hasn’t reached the city, and, well, it would be fair to assume that most people are not there for them, but the crowd racket spoils the entire show for me and other potential fans. Again, an unfortunate situation, given that this band are excellent recorded and I was excited to hear them perform live.

At least being able to ‘see’ Red Sky July perform, their vibe fits in very nicely with the current Nashville TV show hype in the US. I can’t wait to see them perform again but with a crowd who appreciate them. When we speak to Shelly and Charity after the show, they’re absolutely charming, happily signing CDs for and chatting to new fans. Next time lucky in Manchester, we all hope.

The legend that is SHERYL CROW enters to enormous applause and screams – she’s greatly loved in this city. From opener Maybe Angels, the band sync seamlessly into A Change Would Do you Good, recreating the first segment of the eponymous second Crow album which won her a Grammy for Best Rock Album. The crowd have their hands in the air as Crow greets them, “How you doing, Manchester?!” which is received with squeals of joy. She gets the venue clapping, later celebrating the steamy atmosphere with, “I like it – it’s nice and sweaty!” Unfortunately, some fans don’t agree as they’re close to passing out with the lack of air, several people exiting the building at the back to breathe. The Ritz’ famed lack of oxygen strikes again.

Grammy-award winner All I Wanna Do from her 1993 debut album Tuesday Night Music Club gets the fans singing along, a reminder of how this track dominated the radio airwaves in the ‘90s. She laces the set with hit after hit, scattering a few new tracks off her most recent Feels Like Home album. The vocals are spot-on, while the backing band, including an impressive percussionist, are incredibly tight. “It’s a blessing to travel the world to play music…” she humbly confesses to the audience.

By the end of the set, we’re practically falling over with the heat, increasing numbers of people sitting on sofas upstairs taking advantage of stray venue flyers to fan themselves. My photographer and I find a table to perch on while trying to absorb the latter half of the show. By this point, we’re thinking more about liquid and fresh air than Sheryl Crow, and the stellar set is lost upon us.

Then, tossed out into the chilly night with everyone else, I wonder if this has succeeded in straightening out my view of Sheryl Crow live – all I can say is that I might need a third attempt to convince me – she’s an enormous talent and musical icon, but, for different reasons, the venues in both cases have simply not done her justice. Watching both bands perform tonight, I’m nostalgic for the beauty of a smaller venue, the ideal setting being a little Nashville bar filled with musicians and music-lovers, chairs, a small dance floor and air. Nashville, here we come…

>> Check out our full set of SHERYL CROW photos HERE! >>

>> Check out our full set of RED SKY JULY photos HERE! >>