Finally Nothing But Thieves are getting their just deserts with a sold out headline show. This band have been marked for greatness from the start, their talent has afforded them amazing opportunities and what they have lacked in experience they have made up for in fearlessness. A lesser band may have been tempted to pause first in the hope of readiness, but this young band have been quick to take the challenges.
They often admit on stage and social media how nervous and overwhelmed they are to be highlighted with radio play, to be invited to support bands like Awolnation and Muse on major tours when they only have a smattering of EP’s and one eponymous album under their belts. As this show proves sometimes it’s best to feel the fear and do it anyway.
The atmosphere in the Academy is crackling with anticipation. At the arrival of the band on stage the crowd unleash a crazed energy, in the audience pit there is a pulsing throng of screaming girls, tiered around them are a cross section of gig goers, but broad appeal isn’t an indication of what to expect. The recorded music of Nothing But Thieves is technical and sharply produced, but as a live band they are a whole other animal.
If their career trajectory continues, expect them to be the next great stadium band. It feels like the stars are lining up for them. All of the markers are there, the branding, the increasing numbers of fans, the airplay, reputation and the genuine excitement.
Tonight even the stage lighting mirroring the rough circle from their cover art is illuminated behind them. They take position they are visibly stunned by the massive crowd reaction. As an act they are an unassuming looking bunch, still so young looking, so straightforward and un-styled.
Once composed, they open with Itch; a ticking slow burn of a song with scraggly punches of deep guitar shreds, the energy in the room strengthening their performance. The star of this musical explosion is Conor Mason’s extraordinary voice. He is one of those rare performers who has the power to shift his voice from storytelling with words to using his voice as a forceful instrument which soars above the music.
On disco-funk-pop Hostage his voice, almost androgynous, cuts through the Duran Duran inspired beats and synths like the clear ring of a bell. Throughout the set his range and control are showcased, at times operatic, soulful and forced out with complete commitment.
Cranking it up for a different sound on Hanging, Joe Langridge-Brown and Dom Clark pick out shards of choppy guitar and hammer them down to blues twangs. The pair spin on either side of the stage, stopping and starting with the music, in a spontaneous performance where the notes that are dropped are as meaningful as the notes that are played.
Between songs Mason gives his impressions from the stage, “This has been our dream. We grew up half and hour away from here and always wanted to play this venue.” He takes a deep breath, casting his gaze around the levels, taking in the scale of the venue. “I’ll be honest, right now I’m shitting my tighty whities!” Laughing along the musicians take position as the blackness of the stage is cast in slices of red and white light.
“This is a new song.” The sound is more aggressive, a crescendo of rock with slurred lyrics and abridge like a 007 theme. On Graveyard Whistling the mood is soothed with heartfelt fills from the piano like synth and monochrome strip lighting appears from the lofts of the stage. The balance in the music is proof that Nothing But Thieves can still use their older material to display a well rounded more mature sound and grow these songs to match their current level of songcraft.
Now comes a moment of wish fulfilment for the audience as the lights drop down for an acoustic opening to Six Billion. Elegant pinstripes of light pierce the darkness like security laser beams, Mason’s rich vocals lead the way as each member adds to the building whirl of sound in a song that is filled with aching sadness. Mason lifts his voice, pausing for half breaths in long heart wrenching notes.
The intensity builds once more into helter skelter of sound for Painkiller. James Price drives the rhythm with a punchy drum beat until the whole band are playing full throttle with no time for posturing. Watching them give themselves over to the music is far more compelling than rock vogueing and posturing.
They are playing for the pleasure of it during Drawing Pins Mason and Langridge-Brown seem almost to fold into each other in state of joyous disbelief. At times in the track all of the mathematical accuracy of their playing is matched with their abandon as the guitarists cast their guitars around themselves as if in anguish. Mason cries out a single paralysing note before the stage is plunged into darkness. If I Get High is played delicately, albeit edging towards a more Emo sound.
Rewinding in their brief catalogue they play the first Nothing But Thieves song Excuse Me, this song is so strong it possible to retroactively see their future unfold, with a shrill but clear call out in the chorus that yields to Mason’s ear melting, sensational falsetto. On this number every band member fully committed to making the sound full and luxurious.
They push through to the last song before the encore, Wake Up Call, a perfectly formed pop song and arguably their most popular hit so far. Mason jumps on the drum plinth to join Price as he slams out the beat, bassist Philip Blake matching the drive with his whole body as he bangs his head in time and Langridge-Brown tears out a needly and challenging guitar fill.
After the ‘big finish’ and ceremonial pause for the encore they return to play Lover, Please Stay a song which may have slotted better into an earlier part of the set as the audience, still so revved up struggle to settle down again, seem to be chatting audibly over the music. Perhaps the kinetic frenzy of the last hour took it’s toll on their attention spans? Better received is Trip Switch with its wailing guitar and the chance for an audience chorus with the house lights up.
Tonight Nothing But Thieves have given so much of themselves, presenting some masterful rock and breath-taking vocals, they pause at the edge of the stage for a collective bow. There they stand – capturing a moment for posterity frozen in time with lights flashing behind them and a bright future ahead. Mason, catching his own breath revels in the moment as his lyrics just declared, “This is it”, it can only be agreed, yes it is.
Photography by Belle Piec and review by Sarah Sievers. Nothing But Thieves at Brixton Academy 2nd December 2016.
Nothing But Thieves will return in the new year with a brand new album, tour dates are expected to follow.