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Three generations of Manchester bands came together Saturday night to pay tribute to the victims of the bomb attack that devastated the city just under a week ago.
Around 50,000 people were at Emirates Old Trafford cricket ground to see The Courteeners perform an emotional hometown set that took on extra poignancy in light of Monday’s terrorist attack, which claimed the lives of 22 people and injured more than 100 others.
The Charlatans, Blossoms and Cabbage, who all hail from the Greater Manchester area, also performed at the sold-out show, which was announced in the fall and is the first major concert to take place in the city since the tragic events of five days ago.
As to be expected, there was a high police presence at the gig, with armed officers stationed outside the venue and tight security checks inside. Ticket holders were warned beforehand not to bring bags or rucksacks with them and to anticipate delays entering the stadium, with every audience member searched before being allowed entry.
Roads surrounding the venue were also blocked off by police fans, while a higher-than-usual number of security staff could be seen within the venue. Despite the heightened security, a large number of empty seats could be spotted in the upper tiers of the stadium, suggesting that hundreds of ticket holders stayed away due to fears about their own safety.
“We thought for a long time about whether to come or not. It has been a real worry, especially with bringing the kids here, but we’re pleased we’ve come,” one parent who had traveled nearly 100 miles with his wife and children to attend the show, told Billboard. “You’re always looking over your shoulder. Even when you’re here, I notice myself scanning around, but you can’t give in [to terrorists]. You’ve just got to get on with life.”
Those sentiments were echoed throughout the day, culminating with Courteeners’ frontman Liam Fray reading out a poem by Ryan Williams paying homage to Manchester and its inhabitants’ resilience ahead of his band’s headline set.
“A grey Tuesday morning, ‘neath Lancastrian skies. We wake once again to wipe tears from our eyes. Forced to wear robes of weakness and pity. As cowards attack the very heart of our city,” recited Fray, wearing an ‘I heart MCR’ T-shirt.
“For a time our strut is reduced to a stagger. But make no mistake, we’ll rekindle our swagger,” he continued to loud cheers. “We’ll learn to live with another deep scar. If you think you can beat us, you don’t know who we are.”
Following the poem, which was greeted with a thunderous round of applause, Fray momentarily left the stage before returning alongside his bandmates and launching into a rousing 90-minute greatest hits set, including “Are You In Love With a Notion?,” “Lose Control,” “Take Over The World,” “Modern Love” and “Not Nineteen Forever.”
The singer also performed a solo acoustic version of Oasis’ ‘90s classic “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” which has become an unofficial anthem of Manchester’s response to the bomb attack after mourners spontaneously broke into song following a minute’s silence to honor those who died. Footage of the impromptu performance, filmed in the city center, quickly went viral and was shared around the world.
“Thanks for being brave and coming down, because it can’t have been easy,” said a clearly moved Fray before closing the night with a pyrotechnic-accompanied run through fan favorite “What Took You So Long?” The tragic events of May 22 will never be forgotten, but Saturday night showed a city beginning to heal.
A version of this article originally appeared on Billboard.com.
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