Heathers at The Academy – Review
Heathers played The Academy last Thursday, 28th November, with support from Tvvins and Silent Noise Parade.
With a packed Academy at their disposal, Heathers’ reputation at home among gig-going pop fans is solidified. By now their secret is out – out of Ireland at least. Their second album, ‘Kingdom’ was released last year to widespread acclaim at home, and recent deals with distribution labels suggest that further success abroad abounds.
For me, Heathers are a band I had fallen in love with four years ago, who suddenly changed pace with the release of ‘Kingdom’. To anyone who would listen to me, I’ve been mourning their movement from their original sound – the innovation of the energetic, yet sparse folksongs of ‘Here, Not There’ – towards the staler electro-pop of the second album. To that end, a year later, I still struggle to accept their latest offering. In the break after the opening act, the sight of a roadie setting up laptops next to the drums and Ellie’s mic is enough to illicit a sinking feeling. Prior to this, Tvvins, consisting of a member from each of Adebisi Shank and Cast of Cheers, blast through an impressive set of unfairly catchy vocoded electro-pop, managing to move a few heads in the audience along the way.
After the lull, the now-four membered Heathers, preceded by a brief atmospheric spoken word piece, step onstage to a more feminine cheer from the crowd. They begin with the stripped-back intro of ‘The Third Rail’, forcing the hairs on the back of the neck to bristle, and move swiftly into ‘Waiter’. But it’s with the trio of songs ‘Circular Road’, ‘Listen Don’t Speak’ and their anti-suicide anthem ‘Forget Me Knots’ that they really start to breath, grow in stature, and suck in the crowd.
There was a time Heathers’ music would struggle to fill venues, but with the girls now flanked by a drummer and electric guitarist, and presumably with more proficient sound engineers, this fear is a distant memory. Ellie, looking glamourous in a leather skirt and jacket, now moves around the stage with a confidence she would have struggled to find a few years ago, having also taken over some keyboard and percussion duties. When they speak to the crowd between songs, their demeanour, calmer than before is evident, as is the soft overtones of Dublin accents. Among the most captivating moments of the performance are when the sisters lock eyes as they play, sharing the heart-warming smile of girls in love with what they do.
Most intriguing for me was the question of how the first album’s songs would be re-imagined with a full band – songs that largely only featured an acoustic guitar and two voices on the record. Unfortunately, I was only given a partial answer, as only three of those songs were played, and the news is both good and bad. ‘Margie’ greatly benefits from the strong drumming, and the piano backing to ‘Moose’ is simply gorgeous. Gateway track ‘Remember When’, however, is a victim of its own structure, with its stop-start nature only hindering the drummer’s attempts to keep rhythm.
For all my disappointment about their change in style, however, two of the songs that emerged in acoustic form before the album’s release, ‘Find a Way’ and ‘Underground Beneath’, are far superior live with a full band. Unfortunately, ‘Waiter’ does not profit from the same luck, and a once-delicate, thought-provoking tune now suffers driving synth lines and electronic beats.
Following a surprise cover of Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, is ‘Flight’ – for me, the stand-out track of the night, and one overlooked on an album full of more in-your-face songs. But its gentle melodies prove to be the last moments of calmness of the night, as it’s followed by ‘Underground Beneath’ and ‘Gather Up’, two excellent synth-pop tracks which whip the crowd into a frenzy, as Louise ditches guitar duties and gets up close and personal with the front row of the audience. They close with an outstanding version of ‘Find a Way’ as an encore to tumultuous applause.
After an enjoyable show, it’s relieving to know that we don’t have to wait long for the next one, with acoustic performances scheduled in Bray, Mullingar and Waterford before Christmas, as well as a recent announcement of a headlining event in January. All my broken-hearted criticism notwithstanding, the girls put on a tremendous show, and are certainly worth a look at any opportunity.
See also: Video interview with Heathers
Review by Conor Cosgrave
Photos by Tudor Marian