Nothing But Thieves At The Academy 2 – Review
Playing their maiden Dublin show on a wet November Saturday night in the unglamorous surroundings of the Academy 2, British five-piece Nothing But Thieves have stealthily crept up over the past year to become one of the UK’s most promising rock acts. Although signed to major label Sony RCA, the Essex band have never been given the ‘next big thing’ hype treatment routinely trotted out by the UK music press, rather they’ve developed at their own pace with a string of tours across their homeland and Europe. Support slots with the likes of Muse and Arcade Fire mean they have learned the ropes from some of the best in the business. Their slow burn approach paid off earlier this year with their self-titled debut album going top 10 in the UK. Something of an unknown quantity in Ireland (it’s unlikely you’ve heard the band on the radio or read about them in print media), tonight’s show is nevertheless sold-out in advance most likely due to their online popularity, with many of their videos clocking in at over 1m views.
Arriving onstage just after 8:30, album opener ‘Excuse Me’ doubles up as their live show starting point. A song loaded with nervous tension on record, in a live setting it is far more brash and straightforward. New single, and perhaps the band’s most recognisable song, ‘Itch’, is dropped into the set surprisingly early which helps to get the packed Saturday night crowd fully on board, it’s tremolo guitar intro and weaving chorus sounding terrific in the live arena. Singer Conor Mason’s voice is undoubtedly the band’s major calling card, his vocals effortlessly shapeshift between flashes of Matt Bellamy, Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke and Brandon Flowers. Disappointingly, his voice is pretty much undetectable over the first few numbers due to sound problems and poor mixing but once these problems are ironed out, you realise the incredible vocals are worth the ticket price alone. The atmospheric ‘Graveyard Whistling’ showcases Mason’s voice in all its glory, his range veering from softly sung verses to delicate falsetto choruses, and the song’s anthemic inner-strength mantra ‘if you don’t believe, it can’t hurt you’ is sang back loudly to the band.
As a music venue, The Academy 2 may have its critics. Essentially a dark basement underneath the main venue, it’s flat floor layout means those not in the first few rows may struggle to see the band performing on its tiny stage. It does, however, have its advantages, enabling music fans to get as close to their favourite bands as humanly possible without actually being on stage. With a lack of any real light show and a deafening volume due to the close proximity with the speakers, it seems as if the listener is attending a band rehearsal rather than a show. This is a particular treat on the slower numbers of tonight’s set, with ‘If I Get High’ and synth-rock atmospherics of ‘Hostage’ greatly benefitting from the intimate surroundings. Groove-laden single ‘Trip Switch’ is sang back at full volume to the band who note how happy they are to hear their songs being sung ‘with Irish accents for the first time’. Closing with the garage-rock clatter of ‘Ban All The Music’, Nothing But Thieves finish a set that despite being 13 songs long, seems to fly by in mere moments. The only disappointment of the night is the omission of achingly beautiful acoustic ballad ‘Lover, Please Stay’ from the setlist.
The last bands to successfully combine alt-rock histrionics with pristine Jeff Buckley-style vocals were Muse and Radiohead (who didn’t fare too badly). Don’t be surprised if Nothing But Thieves follow a similar career trajectory. The next time the band return to Ireland, it’s undoubtedly going to be to a room much larger than tonight. Tonight, those in the know were treated to an expertly crafted and wonderfully intimate show which showcased the very best of one of the UK’s fastest rising acts.