Nothing But Thieves with support from HOW
Friday 27th November 2015 – Bar Sub, Belfast
I first became aware of Nothing But Thieves through a late night Facebook message from a friend, who enclosed a video with the message: “I think you might like this band. They kinda sound like Jeff Buckley/ Radiohead.” She wasn’t lying: the intimate acoustic performance of album standout ‘Lover, Please Stay’ saw singer Conor Masson deliver the desperate plea of the song’s title in his stunning, Buckley-esque emotional warble. With interest piqued, the next click brought me to single ‘Ban All The Music’, whose jittering funk and off-kilter riff recalled classic Muse, while Masson’s Thom Yorke style shapes in the video evoked the glory days of The Bends. It was clear that they were not a run of the mill indie outfit: they had the potential to be something very, very special.
When a band with such star quality are announced in a venue as tiny as Bar Sub, it always carries the rare opportunity of getting up close and personal with a group before they blow up. On 27th November hundreds of fans stuffed the downstairs bar in Queens in the hope of sharing a collective ‘I Was There Moment’. After an entertaining opening set from Armagh pop-rockers HOW, whose catchy tunes and the showmanship of frontman Pete Kerr had the crowd bouncing, Nothing But Thieves took to the stage around 8:15 and went into album opener ‘Excuse Me’. Starting with a Pixies-style snail’s pace, the diminutive Masson erupted into a room-filling falsetto during the song’s arena-ready chorus, with the whole band impressively nailed the record’s massive sound. The crowd really came alive for single ‘Itch’, guitarist Joe Landridge Brown let rip with a searing, feedback drenched Johnny Greenwood style solo over the song’s outro. Drummer Jason Price’s propulsive beat and Dom Craik’s keyboard helped give the song a floor filling, indie disco beat. Masson then took the opportunity to thank the crowd for coming out to their first ever Irish date, and apologising to the audience for the lack of alcohol on sale before appropriately playing album bonus track ‘Honey Whiskey’ and recent radio success ‘Graveyard Whistling.’
Despite the title not being a million miles away from obvious inspiration Jeff Buckley’s ‘Mojo Pin’, ‘Drawing Pins’ is a dancey modern indie track that was propelled by Phillip Blake’s slick bassline. Buckley was channelled more directly on their next song ‘Last Orders’, introduced as one of the oldest songs the band has recorded. Its scratchy guitar alongside Masson’s tortured vocal performance made it difficult not to think of Buckley’s appearance just a few miles down the road in the Limelight over 20 years earlier.
They picked up the pace with the punky ‘Painkiller’, before the audience sing-along one-two of current single ‘Trip Switch’ and ‘Wake Up Call’. The set’s definite highlight came with Masson’s showpiece ‘If I Get High’. On record it is effectively a little brother to Radiohead’s ‘High and Dry’, and in person it was every bit as stunning: the rowdy crowd brought to a hush, Masson stood to attention, eyes half closed, as his magnificent voice soared over Landridge-Brown’s understated guitar. The heart-wrenching beauty of Masson’s vocal piece-de-resistance shattered any questions the audience may have had over whether he was ‘the real thing.’
The enraptured crowd were then treated to their ‘Planet Telex’, the crunching ‘Hanging’ before closing off the show with their biggest anthem to date, ‘Ban All The Music,’ with all the showmanship and stadium rock expertise of Absolution-era Muse. Exiting the stage without an encore, Nothing But Thieves showed the crowd they have not just arena but stadium potential. Although their record obviously betrays their Bends-era Radiohead and Jeff Buckley influences, so did Muse’s overlooked debut Showbiz, and the Reading titans obviously recognised kindred spirits when they asked Nothing But Thieves to open for them in Rome this summer. Hopefully they learn from Matt Bellamy’s crowd on how to use their influences to forge their own identity and become artists in their own right.