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  • Matt Codd

The Hoosiers @ The Leadmill: Nostalgia Meets A New Era In This Triumphant Return

If you were anywhere in the UK in 2007, you will have heard The Hoosiers. Their first two singles, ‘Worried About Ray’ and ‘Goodbye Mr. A’ had a vice-like grip on the country in a way that is rare for indie bands, no matter how pop-leaning their sound maybe. This initial popularity is always something that bands like this often struggle to grapple with, and The Hoosiers were no different. Frontman Irwin Sparkes told us in a recent interview, “I think we initially rebelled against what made us popular as we wanted to be lots of different things”. But, over time, that initial resistance has faded and the duo have a new-found Confidence in the form of their new album. And no, I will not apologise for the pun.

The new album is the first new music the band has released in 5 years and with it comes a UK tour, with a stop off in Sheffield’s own icon, The Leadmill. Aptly, and maybe fortuitously, the Sheffield date landed on a Saturday evening and if there is one thing that The Hoosiers’ music was made for, it was Saturday nights. With the stage set and primed for a party, we made our way under the magic red neon as we had so many many times before, anticipating the kind of evening that only this venue can provide.

The first thing we noticed was that this might have been the most diversely aged crowd we had ever been a part of, outside of a festival setting. A testament to the wide-reaching appeal of the feel-good pop music that this band so effortlessly create. But before the main act, there was support all the way from Portsmouth from the electric Crystal Tides. It wasn’t their first trip to the Steel City this year, having brought the party to Tramlines earlier this Summer. Their experience in our hometown hasn’t been the best whenever they have visited, they tell the crowd previous shows of theirs have been plagued a variety of issues and nothing working, but this wasn’t an issue tonight.

The quintet were exceptional despite apparently running on only a “few hours of sleep”, giving the crowd a taste of a band that are destined for great things. Their performance was energetic and emphatic with tunes laden with noughties guitar riffs and pop melodies that seemed almost warm and familiar. ‘Headcase’ is a crafted sing-along joy, helped by the band teaching us the chorus beforehand, and ‘Honey’ is the kind of track that rightly earns a band widespread success. It was a feel-good 30 minutes and if you ever need a lift, stick on some Crystal Tides.

But after a short wait, it was time for the kings of uplifting pop music. As they took to the stage, it felt as though the crowd had waited a lot longer than those 30 minutes for this moment. In truth, they had. As mentioned, it had been over 5 years since we had new music from The Hoosiers, but even longer since they had visited the Steel City for a gig, this was long overdue and the excitement was palpable. They entered to the sound of their new album opener, the instrumental ‘Welcome To Confidence’, an invite to join them on this journey into their new era. From the album opener, they rolled straight into the album closer in ‘Lying’ which blended seamlessly with the instrumental from ‘Welcome To Confidence’ operating as the basis for the track.

As Confidence is still relatively fresh, having been fully released only 2 weeks before the gig, a dip in energy from the crowd for the album cuts can be overlooked and forgiven. What cannot be overlooked is the attire on display from the band and Irwin in particular, emerging in an eye-catching tassled jacket that evokes images of Elvis or an American daredevil, depending on your outlook. Whatever you might think of the sartorial choices, it fixed your attention on them. Attention that was rewarded as they began their assault on your nostalgia in earnest.

‘Choices’, the lead single from their sophomore record was the first hit song of the evening and it was received rapturously, a taste of the fervour present within the crowd that would erupt moments later with the iconic opening riff of ‘Worried About Ray’. The single that arguably put the band on the map in a big way had now sent The Leadmill into a state of euphoria. Every person had gotten what they had come to see and there was still around an hour to go. The love now wasn’t just present for the hits though, newer singles like ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Idaho’ also received the flowers they deserve.

The Hoosiers are well aware of their status as a cornerstone of noughties indie pop. Despite their initial resistance as they described, they seemed to relish in this on stage, not just with their songs but by throwing a couple of covers into the setlist for good measure, blended expertly onto some of their newer songs. First up was a little snippet of the Chaka Khan classic ‘Ain’t Nobody’, as if the crowd couldn’t love them more already. By this point, the jacket had had to come off, with Irwin now sporting a piece of their merch, a T-shirt emblazoned with the lyrics "Confidence is easy when you look like this", and right now, everything was looking easy for them.

The established pattern is repeated for the remainder of the gig, with standout moments from the latest LP interspersed with the band’s greatest hits, and I do mean GREATEST. ‘Cops and Robbers’, ‘A Sadness Runs Through Him’ and ‘Up To No Good’ are recited word for word by a crowd in complete ecstasy. A stripped acoustic snippet of ‘Goodbye Mr A’ teases the crowd and offers the band a glimpse of what awaits them come the climax of this already special evening. To close the first part of the set though was their latest single, and personal favourite from Confidence. ‘Making a Monster’ has all the hallmarks of hit by The Hoosiers – an upbeat pop groove, lyrics that roll off the tongue, and of course a brass section! What could make it better you ask? How about rolling straight into a cover of Backstreet Boys' seminal track ’ ‘Everybody’? The Hoosiers are back alright.

The atmosphere was scintillating as they returned for their encore, assuming their positions and statuesque poses to rapturous cheers before leading off with ‘Confidence (Is Easy)’, where Irwin ended up indistinguishable from the crowd, clambering over the barrier singing directly to those close enough. We also got a beefed-up version of ‘So High’, which sits as an acoustic cut on the new album, but sounds so good with a more full blooded, full band effort too. The versatility and surprise factor still with The Hoosiers is incredible.

But then, with mixed feelings we had reached the final song of the night. I say mixed because I never wanted it to end, but the whole Leadmill knew what we were about to experience. The setlist lists the final song as "Mr Aaaaa", an example of the band’s undying humour and light-heartedness, but also a total encapsulation of every person’s emotions as the iconic opening keys of ‘Goodbye Mr A’ began to roll out. I was instantly transported back to 2007 and it gave Irwin’s voice a well-earned rest as the crowd sang every word for him. It was a rare and special moment in a night full of them.

In the interview mentioned earlier, Irwin told us ‘We believe in what we do, and we want to make everyone feel as good listening to our music as we do making it’. When a band comes back together after so long, as a fan you worry what the product may be. Will you still like it? Will they still enjoy it as much as we do? Will it live up to your expectations? Well, truth be told, the truth be told, there’s no need to worry what the future holds for The Hoosiers. With a back-catalogue of bangers, a joyful new album, and a stellar live set that begs to be seen, The Hoosiers are here to stay.


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