The Exchange, Bristol - 14/09/2023
I recently read research into neuroplasticity suggesting the music we listen to at fourteen influences and directly impacts our music taste, and that by this time, musical preferences have completely developed. Personally, I’d say that this adds up for I, aged fourteen, spent a lot of time on the barrier of Ten Tonnes shows alongside my best friend, and it’s here I believe I definitively fell in love with live music.
Recently, I’ve found there to be a lot of big changes in my life; I write this sitting on the bed in my new flat in a new city with an overwhelming feeling of what ifs and potential. Having just left my first Ten Tonnes headline show following his four year hiatus from playing live, it’s left me reflecting on the changes, good and bad, and I’ve been hit with a real wave of nostalgia as well as a strengthened connection to my younger self who, for the record, would have absolutely loved tonight’s show.
Tonight, we’re at the Exchange, a venue that despite being smaller than those I got used to seeing Ten Tonnes play a few years ago, feels like one of the best places to experience live music; intimate and sweaty. And like our fourteen year-old selves would have been, we found ourselves right down at the front of the crowd.
In fact, it feels as though our younger selves are here with us tonight, and not necessarily within us; standing in the front row and directly in front of the main man, Ethan Barnett, himself, is a young girl who seems absolutely in awe of the stage presence of the lead singer, singing along, taking photos and at points on FaceTime to presumably a friend not physically in the crowd tonight (weirdly a pact my friend and I made years ago should we ever find ourselves at one of Ethan’s shows without the other). I didn’t realise how much it resonated with me until I’ve sat down to write this, but it was lovely to see the beauty of live music through the eyes of someone just beginning to discover it.
The pure elation that can be felt as Ethan, accompanied by his band members consisting of both new and familiar faces, enter the stage for his first show in Bristol, a city in which he lived and wrote most of his new material in, since 2019, is immense. Opening with 2021 single, Everything You’ve Got, taken from the So Long EP, it’s clear how the live element is the pinnacle of Barnett’s sound, the hooks upon hooks upon hooks thriving in a room full of people, many of whom I’m sure have longed to hear this track live over the past couple of years.
It’s a live set reflecting on those I’ve grown up dancing to with my best friend beside me, yet one that embraces the change which occurred over the years we’ve been separated from the particular euphoria of Ten Tonnes gigs, especially with songs old and new being celebrated tonight. Whilst setlist veterans such as Born To Lose and Cracks Between offer some of the bigger sing-along moments, songs taken from Barnett’s sophomore record, Dancing, Alone, such as the eponymous track and Heart To Break, arguably steal the show with their upbeat sonics yet tender and often painful lyricism born out of change.
But you can’t help but feel somewhat sorry for Barnett in this new stage of his musical career. Giving the crowd the option between the recent, numbing and delicately powerful number, Lone Star, and classic Love Me To Death, the former falls on a completely unenthused crowd, with very little response. Whilst unsurprisingly Love Me To Death won the vote, it felt like some of the newer material didn’t get the appreciation it ultimately deserved, by which Barnett seemed almost disappointed by.
Equally, in comparison to previous Ten Tonnes shows I’ve attended over the years, tonight’s feels a little strange, and it’s not just down to the decrease in capacity. The last time Barnett played here in Bristol (at Trinity Centre), there was a real crush in the front rows with everyone in the room wanting to get as close to the action as possible. There were segments where the crowd clapped in unison (notably the middle 8 of Silver Heat), before erupting into messy, chaotic jumping, which you couldn’t quite refer to as a moshpit, and fans in the crowd constantly calling out to express their adoration for Barnett. Tonight, it feels there’s a real mixture in the crowd and at points it feels almost embarrassing myself and my best friend singing and dancing like we’re young teens again, as the rest of the crowd stand almost straight faced during some tracks in the set. It definitely feels less like a room full of hardcore fans and more a crowd of punters interested in just heading out for some good live music on a Thursday night in the city centre.
Despite the crowd being very different to what I’ve been used to, there’s songs where the energy can definitely be felt. Lead single, Monday Morning, has the catchy chorus that by the final time it rolls around, the majority of the crowd are having a sing-along, Barnett bouncing on the stage and jamming with the rest of the band during the guitar solo. Similarly, tracks such as Girl Are You Lonely Like Me? and Counting Down get the crowd bopping a bit more.
However, most of the pent up energy is released in the encore. After explaining to the crowd his last track really isn’t his last and he’ll be back onstage afterwards, Barnett returns to the stage for Better Than Me, a song that despite being released over four years ago now, goes as hard as it did in the days of Ten Tonnes’ debut album. After reaching the end of the song, Barnett invites the audience to sing the chorus one last time with just him, as he plays the guitar parts solo and pauses between lines to let the voices of the crowd fill. Closing out the night is arguably Barnett’s biggest anthem, Lucy, which receives the warmest reception of the night, making it feel almost as though he was never away from the live music scene at all.
One place I’m at my absolute happiest is in the front few rows of a Ten Tonnes show and over the past few years, it’s something I’ve missed incredibly. The energy Barnett has onstage as he plays the songs that soundtracked such a large portion of my life, as well as the songs that are the background noise going into the next chapters leaves me with such a feeling of elation. There’s no better place than in the backroom of a pub experiencing a live band, especially one that holds such emotional weight.
I hope my fourteen year old self watching Ten Tonnes as her brain chemistry alters along with her music taste, and growing passion, thinks I’m really cool now, even if when chatting after the gig I responded to Barnett’s thanks for coming with “thank you, you too.” Just like how my awkwardness hasn’t changed, I hope that whilst everything feels as though it’s speeding up and becoming unsteady around me, my love for Ten Tonnes shows will never fade. It’s a really special feeling to grow up loving an artist and seeing how the meanings of their songs evolve as new experiences arise. However, I'm confident that no matter what changes, the music I've loved for all these years will remain a constant.
Ten Tonnes' second album, Dancing, Alone, is out now.
Words and all photography by Katie Hillier.