Nothing But Thieves were my big tip from this year’s Great Escape festival. I saw them play a barnstorming gig at Coalition and instantly knew there was something special about this young Essex quintet. At the time, they’d only released a few EP’s and were relatively unknown, but just listening to those early songs and, even more so, Conor Mason’s stunning voice, it was clear that this was a band destined for big things. For any new band big things don’t get much bigger than being chosen to support Muse in front of 35,000 people at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, but that’s what happened to Nothing But Thieves.
That, as well as finishing off their debut album and non-stop touring, meant their return to Brighton was delayed until the end of October when a gig at Patterns on Halloween promised so much. That show first got postponed and then moved to the slighly larger, yet equally intimate, Haunt a few weeks later, but the day before it was postponed again, this time due to Conor losing his voice. Eventually, they made it to Brighton for what became the last date of their UK tour. Needless to say, the venue was full and no doubt those who managed to bag a ticket were full of expectation.
Now one should mention that Nothing But Thieves aren’t into staging or embellishing their live shows with any theatrics. They’re a little old-school in that respect, perhaps down to their heroes being the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jeff Buckley. Their only nod to branding was their name on the drum kit and with five of them it was a bit of a squeeze getting them all on The Haunt’s stage.
There was no lack of confidence in their performance, you’d expect that from their achievements over the last six months, but I have to say I expected a little more from them in terms of delivering something exceptional. Conor’s vocal prowess will always be the biggest gun in their arsenal and at times his voice is truly amazing to listen to, one moment falsetto, the next a deep growl.
This time around, knowing more about the band than when I saw them back in May, it’s clear guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown plays the most dominant role. He’s also the one that visually has the most star quality. The other three, at least on this night’s performance, are more content to stay in the shadows.
With just an album’s worth of material, it was never going to be a long night and an hour on stage was parsimonious at best. A couple of covers — especially their stunning version of Mumford’s I Believe which they brilliantly fuse with Led Zep’s Kashmir — would have been most welcome, but it wasn’t to be. Perhaps the issue lies with that difficult transition from playing short sets when you’re supporting, to what’s needed when you’re headlining.
The Essex boys have certainly got a handful of great songs themselves and it was no surprise that Wake Up Call, Itch, Ban All The Music and Trip Switch were the set highlights. Of those, Trip Switch is perhaps the most interesting in terms of it’s musicality, but another of their album tracks Hostage with its moody synth beats also may be a precursor to where the band’s sound might be heading. I also liked the emotive ballad If I Get High where Conor shows just how versatile his voice is by sounding just like Tom Chaplin of Keane.
But beyond having an exceptional lead singer, the comparisons between the bands doesn’t end there. Both hail from a small South Coast seaside resort and were formed by schoolfriends. And just like Keane, Nothing But Thieves could soon end up headlining arenas.
Next time they return to Brighton, I hope it’s to a much bigger stage with a decent light show, and that they bring with them more swagger and more songs. Of course one has to remember they’re still a young band who’ve only just released their first album, but to paraphrase a Keane song, if they continue what they are doing, nothing will stand in their way. Indeed, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that they’ll be huge. It would be criminal if they weren’t.