Amber Run gig review

After 18 months of lockdown keeping us from enjoying live music for so long, there’s a huge excitement that comes with seeing the world return to normality and musicians begin to tour again. When I saw tickets on sale to see Amber Run – one of my favourite bands – in Newcastle on the 17th of October, I jumped at the chance to go to my first proper gig in over a year.

Late Sunday evening, myself and a friend (who I’d dragged along to their first concert with the bribe of a free ticket) struggled our way past throngs of dejected-looking Newcastle football fans to NUSU. Finally finding our way down the labyrinthine depths of the Students Union nearly an hour after doors opened, we worried we’d be late, but instead faced a room so sparse we thought we were in the wrong place (again). We were just in time to grab a drink and catch the start of support act Luna Bay. The indie-rock group played through a handful of their songs, including ‘Little Amsterdam’ and ‘Hometown’ from their Colours EP. They had a good stage presence – especially guitarist Milligan who danced around like he was having the time of his life.

By this point, the room had filled out and Amber Run began their set with the pounding, distorted rock guitar of ‘Carousel’. They continued through with a selection of songs from all three of their albums, starting with more upbeat, rocky anthems Pilot’ and ‘Just My Soul Responding’ as well as the more atmospheric favourites ‘Stranger’ and ‘Fickle Game’. What followed was a lull into some more evocative and emotional songs such as ‘5AM’ in the middle of the gig, or as lead singer Joe Keogh liked to call it ‘sad boy hours’. Keogh’s explanation that ‘Amen’ was written as a eulogy to his grandfather added to what was already a hugely poignant moment that (besides a few drunken murmurings) was felt in the silence held by the crowd. Stripped away from the usual light show and base drum of most Amber Run songs, Keogh’s pure vocal talent was laid bare and brilliant in his performance.

Returning to their heavier, head-banging ‘Neon Circus’ right afterward felt like whiplash, but they certainly reignited the crowd’s excitement. My personal favourites ‘What Could Be As Lonely As Love’ and ‘No Answers’ inspired a lot of clapping and singing along, as their thumping drum beats combined with meaningful yet memorable lyrics.

The band loved being back on stage after so long without a gig during the pandemic, and they said as much. Rather than waiting to tour a whole new album, the band debuted only a few songs from their new EP The Search (Act 1): ‘Ride’ and ‘Sweet Melancholy’, the decision revealing a desperate will to just be performing again. The setlist’s jukebox of songs from the first album 5 AM, second For A Moment, I Was Lost and third Philophobia felt like a tribute to long-term fans, and the new songs were certainly an exciting taster of what’s to come from the band.

The small venue (and as a result, crowd) meant at times the atmosphere fell a bit flat and quiet, but as the gig drew to a close, encouragements from the band to sing along to ever-popular ‘Noah’ were successful and I finally felt I could shout-sing the lyrics without accidentally drowning out the music for people next to me. An encore followed, made obvious by the lead singer (and the fact they hadn’t yet sung their most popular song), and after the beautiful ‘I Found’, the night ended with an uplifting rendition of ‘Spark’, a great send-off into the next week at the close of a Sunday night.

As with the two previous times I’ve seen Amber Run live, band members hung around long after the gig to take pictures and sign things for fans, and it was lovely to chat briefly with Keogh about the concert. On the night bus back to Durham for a quid, the ‘I’m tired’ slogan on the t-shirt I’m clutching feels fitting after a long night – but who can complain when it feels so special to be back at a gig again.

Featured image: Hannah Davies

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