Despite emerging during the post-Strokes garage rock explosion of the early ’00s, Swedish five-piece Mando Diao have been thus far largely overlooked in the UK – cruelly so some might say, but most would probably say, “Mando who?” Still, that hasn’t stopped them building a huge and fanatical fanbase in Germany, Japan, and their native Sweden – as our own Luke Rodgers discovered when his lukewarm reaction to the band’s recent Mean Street EP was bombarded with over 150 comments from die-hard Mandofans (however, it’s fair to say there was barely a single coherent argument among them). Speaking of die-hard fans, it seems that a not-insignificant number of them have travelled from far and wide to be here tonight – not all that surprising when you consider their fanatical nature and the fact that these UK dates are some of the most intimate shows they’ve played in a long time.
So, what is the argument for Mando Diao being good, apart from “THEY MAKE U WANT 2 DANCE!!!111!”? It’s arguably not lyricism, and if that’s what you’re looking for in a band then you should probably leave your brain at the door, lest you start asking yourself questions like “why are they singing about a trenchcoat?” and “who the hell is Jimmy Fire?” It’s not truly exceptional musicianship either. Now, I don’t mean that as a slight against the band, they’re all good musicians – but anyone expecting some seriously virtuoso playing should probably stick with their prog-rock records.
Crucially, however, what tonight’s performance at Manchester Academy would prove to me is that Mando Diao are entertaining. Shortly after taking to the stage, the band rip through ‘Blue Lining, White Trenchcoat’ with a conviction and energy that’s impossible to ignore, despite the song’s apparently flimsy premise. ‘You Got Nothing On Me’ is equally likeable in a Beatles-meets-Strokes-meets-Hives sort of way, and even the cheesy bounce of ‘Mean Street’ is better live, gifted a rawer edge by toning down the piano and cranking up the guitars. I feel like I’m being slowly won over, and it’s making me feel a little bit dirty. The slinky, minimal blues of ‘High Heels’ certainly doesn’t do anything to make that feeling go away, and neither does the fact that the band continue to bust out prime cuts from their most recent LP Give Me Fire – both ‘Gloria’ and ‘Dance With Somebody’ in particular are stupidly infectious pop songs. Even older tracks like ‘The Band’ and ‘God Knows’ – which to my ears were a tad generic on record – sound like anthems, and both crowd and band sure as hell treat them as such.
The Mando boys know how to work their audience too – they may have been criticised by some of their own fans for extending the intros to some of their songs, but in an intimate setting such as this it works well to build anticipation. Frontmen Björn and Gustaf goad the crowd on with practised ease, able to coax a reaction out of almost nothing with just a few words – and even though it’s clichéd, when Björn removes his shirt and slings it into the crowd during the encore, it goes down a treat.
However, the show did have a couple of minor flaws, and it would be lax of me to ignore them. Firstly, the band’s two backing singers were so badly co-ordinated at times that it was laughable – hilariously epitomised by the moment when one was clapping along at twice the speed of the other. Secondly, the acoustic section halfway through the gig seemed fairly superfluous and a little bit dull, with Björn and Gustaf trotting out imaginary place themed ditty ‘Ochrasy’ and then, perhaps because they’re lacking a live string section, they proceed to use the potentially beautiful ‘If I Don’t Live Today, Then I Might Be Here Tomorrow’ as a throwaway acoustic number.
The acoustic section did provide one interesting insight though, with Gustaf telling us before ‘If I Don’t Live Today…’ that “Normally we dedicate this song to someone who’s died, but as we’re in Manchester we’re going to dedicate it to a band who died.” And while other bands might have come out with a Joy Division reference in order to be cool and/or witty, Gustaf simply confirms what he means with brief, but revealing honesty: “Long live Oasis.”
For me, that anecdote is indicative of the honest, genuine passion that Mando Diao have for what they’re doing, and it runs throughout their set – so much so that by the time they’ve finished romping through the scuzzy garage rock howl of ‘Sheepdog’, I actually find myself surprisingly convinced by their performance. Granted, I’d be the first to admit that their music isn’t particularly groundbreaking or mind-blowing – but the band’s energy, showmanship and sheer self-belief makes them worth seeing in a live setting. Whether or not Give Me Fire will finally help Mando Diao ‘break’ the UK is debatable, but for now, I’m sure both their local and international fans will have relished the chance to see them in such an intimate setting – I’d imagine that a lot of the charisma and stage presence the band have demonstrated tonight would be easily lost in the sell-out arena shows they’re more accustomed to on the continent. Might as well enjoy shows like this while we can, no?