Amber Run – Bodega, Thursday October 10
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
Formed at Nottingham University in December 2012, Amber have made remarkable progress over the past few months. Noah, their debut single, was played on Radio One, Radio Two and 6Music, and playlisted by Radio One last month. The band’s fourth and fifth gigs were at the Reading and Leeds festivals, and an appearance at the Theatre Royal for Nottingham Rocks soon followed, backed by a 14-piece orchestra.
For Amber’s first headline show – still only their eighth as a band – the timing couldn’t have been more auspicious. Only last week, they became the latest Nottingham act to sign with a national record label (RCA Victor), bringing the current total up to seven, and giving the city’s thriving music scene yet another boost of confidence.
All of this good fortune ensured a near-capacity crowd at the Bodega. Friends and fellow students filled the front half of the floor, while industry figures and scene regulars squeezed in at the back. For many, it was the first opportunity to witness these overnight sensations in the flesh, and an atmosphere of eager curiosity duly prevailed.
Opening with Heaven, the forthcoming second single, Amber launched confidently into their nine-song, 45 minute set, setting the bar high for what was to follow. It was hard to believe that they are still such a young band – some are 19, others have turned 20 – and harder still to match their comparative inexperience on stage with the polished professionalism of their playing.
A sound choice for a major label debut, Heaven is a powerfully surging track with a yearning, heartfelt vocal, skilfully navigating various twists and turns before coming to rest on unaccompanied vocal harmonies. (“Now that heaven is on fire, and the world’s technicolour, I’ll be chasing angels all my life.”) Lyrically, it felt like a bold and optimistic statement of intent.
Little Ghost, one of the strongest tracks on the Noah EP, was followed by a couple of numbers that were introduced as “old songs”. Although this seemed a strange claim for such a new act, at least one of them (Stone) dated from singer Joshua Keogh’s pre-Amber solo career. Some of the audience clearly recognised the track. Perhaps they had seen him perform it at Splendour in 2012, when Joshua opened the LeftLion Courtyard stage – just as Jake Bugg had done in 2011.
See You Soon built up the energy levels, paving the way for the instantly memorable Spark, which showed all the signs of being a future festival anthem. By the end of the song, both the band and the crowd were chanting along to its central refrain: “Let the light in, let the light in”. It felt like another of those “great things are about to happen” moments.
An extended version of Noah closed the set. As the fans at the front sang along from the first line of the first verse, the observers at the back exchanged meaningful glances. This is how followings are built.
“It’s been a real graduation for us”, said Joshua towards the end of the show. Since all five band members have just dropped out of their final year at university to concentrate on the band full-time, it’s also the only graduation that they’re likely to get. But with the likes of Bastille and Kodaline making it big this year, there could well be a place waiting for Amber’s similarly pitched, but musically and lyrically weightier approach. If they can be this good after less than a year, then in a year’s time, they could be spectacular.
Note: At the time of this review, Amber Run were known as Amber.