A lot can happen in 12 months, getting dropped by your major record label and losing your drummer were just two instances that Nottingham born and bred Amber Run had to contend with. You wouldn't have thought any less of the band for not carrying on had they decided to make that call, fortunately, they dug their heels in and got busy recording their sophomore album. For a Moment, I was Lost, as an album, stands (in my opinion) head and shoulders above their debut 5am which reflected their state of mind at the time, being signed to a major label and enjoying the grandiose approach to recording that this afforded. We'll be running a review of the new album shortly.
With the new album being released on the same night that the band played at Nottingham's Rock City, they kicked off a tour, reaching out to all corners of the country to promote their new offering. I've seen these guys before, I think it was when they supported Lewis Watson a couple of years back when he played at the Phoenix, however long ago it was, I was really keen to see how they’ve come on and how their music has matured.
Arriving at the Phoenix in Exeter, I wasn't surprised at all to see a massive queue had formed outside the venue. A few days before, Amber Run announced on their website that the show had indeed sold out, which, for a Monday night in February just goes to show the dedication of their fans. Inside the venue, the stage was set and the room was filling nicely.
Opening up the evening was Bristol based electro-pop duo Meadowlark, another act that I saw a couple of years back whilst supporting Ben Watt (formerly of Everything But The Girl), they impressed me then and they impressed me again, their approach to songwriting is immense, some real intricate soundscapes and catchy melodies coming through, captivating the audience that had decided (very wisely) to gather in the room early to catch their set. They’re releasing their new EP Nocturnes on March 10th, you can pre-order it HERE
Up next were London based quartet Island, from the get go, I was transported to another place, their songs, full of atmosphere and feeling, built slowly until they reached a staggering climax. Their on stage chemistry, coupled with the melodic guitar and driving back-line really had a trance like effect on me, as it did no doubt for the room full of revellers who had made the journey on this cold Monday evening! Their latest EP A Place You Like is available to buy now in various formats, including heavyweight 12” and a super limited edition marbled 7” which I understand has already sold out….for more info and availability, please click HERE. It’s not very often I say this but this is a band who are heading for BIG things, if you get the chance to catch these guys on the current Amber Run tour, do so as it won’t be long until they’re playing larger venues around the country as a headline act.
Amber Run took to the stage after a short break and a shuffle round on stage, they arrived to rapturous applause and wasted no time in launching into their set. I managed to get a glimpse of the set list and was really surprised to see that 9 of the 17 tracks on offer were lifted form their latest long player, a bold move if I may say but one that they carried off admirably. The band played their hearts out, I chatted to Joe Keogh a few weeks ahead of the tour (you can read the interview HERE) and I asked him to describe a typical live show, he provided me with a one word answer, “intense”, this it most certainly was!
The set ranged from light, floaty music accentuated with Keogh’s lush vocal range and full on incendiary attacks on the senses, I liked the stark contrast between these two extremes and it was great to see that they could switch into overdrive at any given moment.
Keogh’s vocals reminded me of a young Thom Yorke, passionate, heartfelt and at the flick of a switch, transformed into a growling rage. The band performed brilliantly, to see a bunch of guys so in tune with each other whilst on stage was a joy to behold.
The ‘between song banter’ was a mixture of humour and heartfelt emotion, one minute, Keogh was telling us that the first time they played an encore was in Exeter and as they didn’t have enough songs, they just repeated their most popular song again, he went on to say that this wouldn’t be an issue tonight as they had come armed with plenty of musical ammunition to keep the room happy! Other times, he told us of a recent time where he had fallen out of love with music and owing to the events I mentioned at the start of the piece, thought that it was a sign to hang up his guitar and give it up, I for one am SO glad that he found his mojo once again and went on to record, in my opinion, one of the contenders for “Album of 2017”.
The haunting vocals of “Wastelands” were immense, I’m unsure if there was a 4 part vocal harmony going on or whether Keogh was using a vocoder, either way, it was a real goose bump moment and the audience stood, transfixed whilst he sang his heart out.
'Haze' was introduced as a song that depicted what Keogh was going through when suffering with a bout of depression, the room fell silent as he sang, the vocoder being the only accompaniment in front of a capacity crowd at the Phoenix, a proper puller of the heartstrings!
It was during their last song “No Answers” where I started to understand where the ‘Intense’ nature of their live show came in, the pounding synth, the metronomic guitar line, the heavenly styled vocals all coming together. Keogh stamping his feet and reaching skyward, looking for an answer that he didn’t have whilst the guitarist dropped to his knees, the sound doing everything it could to blow everyone away. This was an amazing end to an awesome show and one that I would really like to replicate again in the near future.
Just My Soul
* From new album For a Moment, I Was Lost
Words by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Grace Chapman-Duke