Antony Szmierek live in Manchester: a homecoming to remember for the city’s new hero

Anthony Smierek performing at Manchester's New Century Hall

A Friday night in town is always a tantalising prospect: the nights are longer and they crackle with opportunity.

The boozers across Manchester city centre are rammed with punters, each on a quest for mischief, liberation, or a chance to party like it’s the end of the world. Antony Szmierek brought all three to his triumphant homecoming show at New Century Hall.

Before the local hero makes his homecoming, the rapidly filling New Century are given both barrels of Big Special. BS are a Birmingham duo who channel political rage into their punky tunes: made up of vocals and drums, accompanied by a plethora of backing tracks and pads that trigger various noises, their set shakes NCH to its foundations.

For a new band on the up and up, Big Special are bursting with potential and their politically charged poetry lights a fire in the heart of Manchester – Big Special are certainly a band to keep an eye on as they ascend the venues of the UK.

It’s not long before the main man emerges, and Szmierek bounds on with his band to raptuous applause. Szmierek has all the stylings of modern Mancunion: a close cropped mullet and ‘stache, kitted out in an oversized tee and baggy trousers, the look is topped off with his own merch. A baggy gilet bearing his colourful logo and the Manchester area code, 0161, gives Szmierek every inch the Northern Quarter tastemaker look, even if he is “really trying not to make gilets my thing.”

Szmierek’s appeal is rooted in his cool: dance, garage and house inspired musicality sees Szmierek tap into the younger crowd, whilst his world wise poetry connects him to the people on the streets in a uniquely Mancunion manner.

He rattles through tune after tune, covering material from both EPs to date; Poems To Dance To and recent offering Seasoning. There is a rare live outing for ‘Circle of Light’, and Szmierek brings on 2b.Frank for ‘Seasoning’: 2b.F takes to the stage in a magnificent tracksuit and shades, while Szmierek croons the line from Arctic Monkeys’ ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ “sunglasses indoors, par for the course”. He finishes another number with “at least not today…”, an homage to Oasis: Szmierek firmly wears his influences on his sleeveless gilet, and the way that he dips in and out of contemporary culture with ease brings the show together superbly.

There is a new song on the setlist, due to land this summer, which is a slice of vintage Szmierek; over the top of a melancholic dance-beat, he hones in on the minute but visceral imagery of confetti falling from the ceiling of a venue during a show.

Through some kind of unimaginably poetic universe alignment, a single rectangle of yellow confetti drifts lazily from the rafters of New Century Hall as Szmierek rhymes about this exact experience. This moment was one of several that makes the gig simply unforgettable. The way performer and crowd link so intrinsically from the get go is rare, and a moment to relish.

“How Did You Get Here?” and “Dance Better” from Seasoning are huge moments in the show, as is Szmierek’s usual cover of Sugarbabes’ ‘Overload’. The sense of occasion is clearly not lost on Szmierek, and he can’t help his own outbursts of gratitude throughout: occasionally he’ll notice a friend or a longtime fan in the crowd and shout them out, he’s constantly hugging and hanging off different members of his band, made up of friends and family.

There is such a wonderful atmosphere of love at an Antony Szmierek show, which transmits from the stage to the crowd, who bounce and twist with the glee that can only come from a special show on a Friday night. There is an atmosphere of tension release, and Szmierek expertly rides this wave.

The hometown hero brings out the big guns for the encore, and the band play a monstrous cover of ‘Step On’ by Happy Mondays, sending his adoring crowd into Mancunian meltdown. ‘The Words to Auld Lang Syne’ is an emotionally loaded closer that brings crowd and performer to tears: this is a special night and caps off the meteoric rise Szmierek has seen with this Seasoning material.

featured image: Charlie Moss

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