Amber Run at the Academy 2 – Review and Photos
The Academy 2… one of the lower rungs on the music industry ladder. A tiny venue in a dark Abbey Street basement where many new bands hone their craft in the early stages of their career, that also serves as a great space to catch a fledgling act before they break big and enter mainstream concerns. Previous acts who have graced its tiny stage include Bastille and Mumford and Sons. With a low ceiling and a flat floor which provides poor vantage points for fans beyond the front rows, it is far from an idyllic space for live music. Following a successful UK tour, which included a sold out show at London’s 1000+ capacity Scala venue, Amber Run were in town for just their second ever Dublin gig following their debut performance upstairs in Whelan’s last November. Having just released their excellent debut album 5AM a fortnight ago, the Dublin show is a marked step down in both size, stature and attendance from the larger UK dates the band may just be getting used to playing. Most likely due to a lack of promotion and airplay on these shores, the small scale of tonight’s show is a great opportunity for fans to watch a fast-rising act in such intimate surroundings.
Taking to the stage to a small but passionate crowd the band open with 5AM closing track ‘See You Soon’, which is an unusual choice of opener given its stop-start rhythm, and sees the show stumbling rather than striding into action. However, as they launch into epic 2014 single ‘Pilot’, with its intricate drumming and soaring chorus line which the crowd roar back at full volume, the show really takes off (pardon the pun). The summertime bounce of ‘Hurricane’ follows to an equally rapturous reception. Amber Run have a unique dual identity in the sense that they can craft massive stadium-sized singalongs yet can instantly switch their style and sound to hushed intimacy. While excellent in both fields, it can make for a slightly disjointed live experience. ‘Just My Soul Responding’, a booming anthem on record, falls flat tonight with the low ceilings of the venue stifling the songs power. Yet when they start into their quieter moments, if becomes clear what a special act they really are. Frontman Joe Keogh has a stunning voice, akin to a bassier Jeff Buckley, which is utilised to the max on the emotional album title track ‘5AM’ and draws a stunned silence from the crowd. A sparse yet powerful piano led meditation on a close friend’s descent in drug addiction, “The way you’ve been going, you’ll be in an early grave”, it has one particular audience member close to tears. Guitarist Will Jones is the groups low-key hidden gem, an anti-guitar hero who rarely relies on brash lead lines and self-serving guitar solos, he opts for a playing style consisting of gorgeous swelled soundscapes and hushed fingerpicking and acts as the perfect foil to their frontman’s songwriting. He also gets to showcase his strengths in the live airing of the albums twin instrumental passages ‘M.F’ and ‘C.F’.
Keogh has an easy likability to accompany his captivating stage presence. Introducing ‘Shiver’ as a sad song about a cheating girlfriend “….it was 4 years ago though so don’t be too sad”, it again brings to the fore the bands strength during their quieter moments. Over soft acoustic guitar accompaniment he dolefully sings “Goodbye trust, it’s always the first to go, seems I deserve to be alone”, as the audience stand in mesmerised silence. The jaunty ‘Good Morning’ starts like a sedated version of The 1975’s smash hit ‘Chocolate’, but its easy-going lyrics and gorgeous harmonies give the song a feel-good edge. With over a million YouTube views, ‘I Found’ could be regarded as Amber Runs most popular song. It melds sombre piano balladry with modern electronic rhythms and light vocoder vocals. Think Bastille produced by James Blake. Tonight’s rendition is even more powerful than the recorded version, with live drums intensifying the songs climax. Admirably taking a request from a fan in the front row, the band play the unplanned early EP track ‘Little Ghost’ before launching into the massive ‘Heaven’. Released as a single last year, yet oddly left off from their debut album, its U2-esque guitars and multi layered vocal outro prove a real highlight of the night and has the crowd roaring along. The band close with the Mumford and Sons meets Coldplay epic single ‘Noah’, their breakthrough song first released in 2013.
Whilst the frequent comparisons to Bastille, Mumford and Sons, and Coldplay (a comparison no doubt bolstered by their unusual doubling of their song titles Shiver, Spark, See You Soon’) are understandable, Amber Run combine the best parts of all their obvious influences and add that special extra something of their own to create a unique blend of styles which refuses to be pigeonholed. You get the feeling that the band are just one major breakthrough hit away from festival main stage slots and larger headline gigs. They aspire (and deserve) to play venues ten times the size of tonight’s show, and on the strength of tonight’s stunning performance, don’t bet against them making the step up.