REVIEW: Nothing but Thieves – Bar Sub, Belfast
After years of showcasing their talent on tours for which they only warmed the crowd, it was time for Nothing but Thieves to take to the stage as the headliners they have always been destined to be. The people of Belfast had assumed their position for the much anticipated tour that would show the five-piece alt rock band in all their skinny jeaned glory.
Belfast was stop number eleven for the sold out Ban All the Music UK tour, named after their second single and featured on their self titled album out in October 2015.
Formed in 2012 and signed two years later by RCA Records, Nothing but Thieves have since been gaining an ever-increasing following after supporting acts like Awolnation, Arcade Fire and Muse. The support element to their live appearances in no way diminished their emergence into the music scene – the identification of them as a new and upcoming alternative rock band can be demonstrated by performances at places like Reading and Leeds and the NME Awards Show.
After appearing in Radio 1’s Live Lounge twice and their debut album peaking at number three on the iTunes chart and number one on the vinyl album charts, it is clear the lads from Essex are more than just thieves – they’re bloody good musicians (had to be done, folks).
This continuous appearance on the airwaves and into the public’s tingling ears has gathered a huge fanbase for the band – a fanbase growing so rapidly that it called for yet another British tour that will take place in April 2016.
This is perhaps music to the ears of those who weren’t lucky enough to be one of just over 300 at the Belfast date in Bar Sub at the Students’ Union. This is the smallest venue at the SU and one in which you can’t bring drink. Typically inviting people to a small, dark room with no promise of sweet alcohol would welcome absolutely no response but this was clearly not enough to deter the fans.
Half seven approached and the early show was about to be kicked off by Armagh born and bred band HOW (a very broad google search if you’re planning on investigating). Having played gigs in Limelight and the Empire in the months prior, the band have a following of their own and were about to treat us to a set based on their album ‘This Is a Raid’ out in May 2015.
To be fair, Keith from down the road could have taken to the stage to do a read through of an episode of Lesser Spotted Ulster and the crowd would have welcomed him with cheers – us Northern Irish folk love when it’s one of our own (represent, etc).
Lucky for us it wasn’t Keith from down the road but instead Peter Charles Kerr, Maxl Walmsley Pledl and Ben and Johno Whittington sporting shirts and ties, ready to deliver an incredibly energetic set that definitely got the crowd past the ‘too uncomfortable to do more than nod my head’ stage.
The alternative rock band with an almost Red Hot Chilli Pepper infusion (band, not the spice) in their more energetic songs were straight into their first song, with escalating vocals that could fill a venue three times the size of Bar Sub. The band’s rock vibe was founded upon crescendoing, powerful vocals with a rough edge, with somewhat softer vocals and harmonies bouncing off this sturdy foundation.
Songs from the album such as ‘Suzie’ and ‘Animal’ were clearly crowd favourites and invitations from the band to ‘get loose’ were in no way necessary as everybody danced along to the heavy guitar and drums, even with the lack of bar. It was a crowd made up of all ages, with one of the older members in particular ‘getting loose’ enough for everyone and jumpin’ and jivin’ in all the free space he could find.
The smaller crowd were clearly in no way a deterrent for the band whose energy was completely infectious. All four guys seemed genuinely happy to be playing their music to a small yet incredibly responsive audience. It wasn’t a matter of band delivering to a separate crowd, but instead everyone dancing, headbanging and clapping their way through the set together.
A half an hour interval allowed those who just couldn’t survive the night with at least a beer slip upstairs to quench their need for alcohol before returning to a room almost packed to capacity. The sweet smell of body odour and a lack of oxygen was in the air along with a lot of anticipation.
Nothing But Thieves were straight on and into their first song ‘Excuse Me’, with the screams of the crowd barely audible above the explosive vocals of singer Conor Mason. The five piece band barely gave us a second to swoon over their baggy tshirts and tight jeans before their crashing drums, guitar and harmonies stormed all over the room.
As they went into their second song it was incredibly clear that this was a band that could fill an arena with their power that just absolutely burst from the vocals and instrumentals. What was even more stunning was how much better the vocals were live – you could feel the echoes of their voices and instruments in your bones, particularly in such a small venue.
After the first three songs Mason addressed the already completely hooked crowd – ‘it’s so dark in here I can’t tell if anyone’s smiling or fucking miserable!’ – met obviously by the screams of the crowd somehow trying to communicate that it was not the latter.
The harmonies that the band built as they work their way up acapella to crash into heavy choruses are completely entrancing, particularly in slower songs such as ‘Last August’, a song not on the album and obviously rarely played as the crowd let out surprised squeaks and screams.
The set bounced between singles such as ‘Drawing Pins’ and communication with the crowd who were completely entranced. It was an incredibly relaxed vibe and the band were obviously just intent on delivering their music to a crowd who were ready to absorb it completely. You could tell the band appreciated their fans, evident from the amount of songs they squeezed into the hour long set.
June single ‘Trip Switch’, also featured in FIFA 16, was one of many crowd favourites, with our loose friend from before still getting loosey goosey amongst a dancing crowd. Intertwined between the set were also slower songs such as the incredibly delicate ‘If I Get High’, that could be heard being echoed by the hypnotised crowd.
The band finished on the single that named the tour – one that the crowd was obviously waiting for, evident from its reception from the first beat. It went back and forth between the crowd and they both finished the song together, with the band promising to see us all again soon.
It was a short set and a small venue which simply emphasised the ability Nothing but Thieves have to immerse a crowd in their music. It is evident that they are a band destined to fill arenas and even then people within a ten mile radius would be shaken by the power of their songs. Clare Hogarth, GiggingNI.com