Amber Run @ Manchester Academy 2
On the day that Storm Doris wreaked havoc and Northern Rail gave us weather-related delays all over the shop, Amber Run brought their contemplative indie-rock sound to Manchester’s Academy 2. Being Liverpool-based, I hadn’t graced this venue before, but I already loved it – big enough for an atmosphere, small enough to still feel intimate, something that the band themselves encouraged from the moment they set foot onstage.
Following a couple of support sets from Meadowlark and Island, (check them both out; they’re WONDERFUL) Amber Run opened their headline show with ‘Spark,’ a track from their 2015 debut album 5am. It’s one of those songs that just grabs you, pulls you in, guitar and keys in hand – perfect gig opener, that one. Enchanting. Following one of those kind of ‘YOU’RE BACK AND WE LOVE YOU’ cheers from the crowd, frontman Joe Keogh noted “3 years ago we were playing to 5 people; now there’s 900 of you eh?” which only cued another cheer, before the Nottingham four-piece launched into the rest of a set consisting of tracks both old and new.
I should highlight at this point that the guy standing directly behind me (henceforth known as Fanboy) spent the entirety of the gig slowly falling more and more in love with Keogh, something which I could only witness from his offhand comments to his friend beside him as he became more and more beer-infused. This first became apparent as Amber Run began one of said new tracks – ‘Fickle Game.’ Fifth in the tracklisting of the band’s recent sophomore album For A Moment, I Was Lost, ‘Fickle Game’ throws up the more personal nature of album two, as well as, according to Fanboy and with which I completely agree, being “a f***ing tune.” It pulls back the rocky momentum just that little bit; this show was paced down to a tee.
Keogh comes back to the writing of the new album in between the next couple of songs. He appreciates how it’s been a tough fourteen months for the band (they went from a five-piece to four and got dropped by their label among other things) and it radiates through the music. Where 5am was maybe vulnerability and raw power bouncing off each other in equal measure, FAMIWL kicks up the vulnerability levels a bit and boy, do you feel it. That’s not to say there’s a reduction in power – the new stuff is just that little bit more heart-breaking, the power a little more concentrated into personal emotion.
Perhaps the real turning point of the set, at least the point at which I started feeling at one with what was happening onstage, was the live rendition of ‘Just My Soul Responding.’ We then heard the likes of ‘Good Morning’ (the only way I can describe this is some kind of pained optimism layered over a the 1975-esque riff) and new tracks ‘Island’ and ‘Perfect’, both of which slot into Amber Run’s live show seamlessly. Though there are differences between the band’s debut record and this one, there’s no doubt they flow back and forth across each other well in a gig situation, intensifying.
It seemed that Fanboy behind me had been quiet for some time, but as Amber Run launched into the titular song from 5am, he was back at it, pulling no punches and throwing it out in the open. He’s sort of just staring in awe at this point and mutters, “he’s f****ing gorgeous.” Minus this interjection, ‘5am’ is one of those tracks that hits you where it hurts, a distinctive driven beat under a swelling instrumental, topped off with that contemplative vocal.
Amber Run then disappear for a bit and return for a three song encore (“we lied to you; we’re gonna do three more.” *cheering*) Encore track the first was ‘Haze,’ moody and heightened by the blue lighting that lit the stage. Then there was oldie ‘I Found,’ a go-to Amber Run track for most people (it has over 22 million listens on Spotify.) At this point, the band also asked the audience to put their phones away and just sing with them. Magic. The night’s events were then rounded off with the conflicted ‘No Answers,’ and that was that.
So where does that leave us? Well, most bands seem to enjoy themselves onstage. But when fronting Amber Run, Keogh’s face, his voice – he needs it, and how can you fault that? The super fab music aside, what makes Amber Run stand out is their live energy. Their passion. Their general sense of appreciation of the people that have come out to see them, support them, be with them. The little smirks they give each other onstage, the hair that seems to fall back exactly where it was meant to no matter the level of sweat (HOW?), and the looks of genuine exhaustion by the end of it; not for lack of stamina, but from a whole lot of pouring out of souls. Tippity top stuff this.
They’ve got grit; they’ve got guts – Amber Run are an indie rock powerhouse.