Hope Of The States : Mandela Hall, Belfast, Sunday, October 17

Hope Of The States : Mandela Hall, Belfast, Sunday, October 17

Sick of America, Hope Of The States come home, hop over to Belfast, and give 2005 something to look out for…

It hasn’t quite happened for Hope Of The States. They were tipped to be one of the hottest bands of 2004. But their grandiose, paranoid, America-obsessed debut album ‘The Lost Riots’ failed to sear itself on to the national consciousness. As the buzzing, insistent sounds of Franz Ferdinand, Razorlight and, latterly, Kaiser Chiefs became the touchstone for a new movement, HOTS looked in danger of being left behind.

Tonight – the first British gig of their new tour – will define where Hope Of The States are after a tumultuous year and also give an indication of whether they have buckled under the weight of expectation. They might still have a long road left to travel. But taking the long way isn’t always a bad idea.

For the last month the band has been touring America the hard way: playing 500-capacity shows with no huge radio-friendly single to help generate heat. They only flew back to the UK seven hours ago. There’s a chance that their equipment won’t turn up in time. But backstage before the show, there are no nerves, no frayed tempers, just focus.

“We ended up getting quite militant about our actions in America, being in the middle of nowhere and playing those songs,” frontman Sam Herlihy tells NME. “Music is of absolute importance to me – whether you can make a record that anybody’s going to listen to in ten years.”

Fittingly for a band meeting their destiny, Hope Of The States are punctual. They take to the stage at exactly 10.30pm, as promised, with an important job to do.

Opener ‘The Black Amnesias’ is a frenzy of feedback and white light. ‘George Washington’ is snappy and military, nipping and barking. There’s a pace to the show, an urgency and a confidence that hasn’t been present before. By the time the strings curl over ‘Black Dollar Bills’, it becomes obvious that the American tour has changed this band.

In weeks, they have thrown out post-rock pretensions and grown into a proper, no-messing rock’n’roll band. They may not blitz through three-minute punk-pop salvos, and may not fit any current trend, but they have new purpose and guile to match their killer hooks. The bedrock of Paul Wilson and Simon Jones on bass and drums is tighter and leaner, allowing violinist Mike Siddell and Anthony Theaker on guitar to work on their flights of fancy. Comparisons with Radiohead – previously blind optimism – begin to make sense.

Sam Herlihy has also changed. Onstage, he used to have the look of a little boy lost – apologetic and self-loathing. He’s left that behind in America. Tonight, he’s a frontman of menace and malice aforethought. He spits the words to anti-globalisation anthem ‘The Red The White The Black The Blue’ like someone who knows where the bodies are buried. When a heckler shouts, he gives it right back, looking ready to climb down from the stage to give him a good kicking.

This is a hurricane of a show, leaving you gawping open-mouthed in its wake. HOTS are in this for the long haul. This may have been a year of missed opportunities, but as they power into 2005, they cannot fail.

Paul McNamee