Despite having more hair than experience, Irish foursome Inhaler commanded Nottingham’s iconic Rough Trade with confidence and vigour at yet another sold-out headline show.
Fronted by Bono’s eldest, Elijah Hewson, Inhaler have been headlining their first UK tour and its second leg brought them to the dingy loft of Notts' own Rough Trade. A venue which, following on from a supporting slot for Noel Gallagher and an impressive set at Holland’s Appelpop festival, seemed surprisingly modest.
Despite the youngsters’ impressive skyward trajectory over the past year, the Rough Trade stage managed to take an intimate gig to a new level, with the young frontman heading up the set from the floor in front of the stage due to lack of space. The band, however, seemed cheery and unphased, and what began as a logistical nightmare ended up making for a visceral performance as the barriers between audience and artist were broken down. As the set began that small stage quickly became a metaphor for a band bursting out of the venue, as well as onto the nation’s music scene.
A confusing amalgamation of teenage girls and middle-aged dads made up the crowd, with the latter being, I suspect, U2 fans with an indulging curiosity for Inhaler. This, combined with the cramped venue, made for a subdued crowd, but the band made up for this lack of energy right from the very opening chords of It Won’t Always Be Like This. With refined guitar work and rousing lyrics that appealed to the young and hopeless lover inside all of us, the April release was a slick and confident opener. Hewson’s sauntering tones of ‘girl you know this isn’t love’ quickly established the tone for a set underpinned by themes of angst, identity, love and ephemerality, and the roaring electrics laid the foundations for a show bursting with youthful energy.
'What began as a logistical nightmare ended up making for a visceral performance as the barriers between audience and artist were broken down'.
The opener’s hazy synths had merely subdued before the band lurched into one of their heavier offerings: the early highlight, I Have to Move On. A jumble sale of genres and sounds, the track combined moody guitar licks and Depeche Mode-esque synths with dazzling success. The song was comprised of a series of complex sections that came to a head in the emphatic closing minute, where Hewson’s chaotic trills of ‘caught in a landslide’ were lost amongst the squealing guitar licks and intense stage presence of bassist Josh Jenkinson, who claimed the song for his own.
Hewson paused for a brief moment to yell ‘how are you feeling Nottingham?’, (with a very Irish emphasis on the ‘ham’) before the band erupted into a flurry of favourites in the form of Another Like You, Ice Cream Sundae and the more pensive This Plastic House. The first was a mediation on fickle teenage love with a spunky edge. Rife with gravelly psych-rock riffs and visceral vocals, it manifested a rawness that are absent in the band’s more polished, pop tracks. All winding refrains and high-powered vocals, the song made for a challenging live performance and demonstrated a deeper, raspier dimension to Hewson’s voice.
'A jumble sale of genres and sounds, [I Have to Move On] combined moody guitar licks and Depeche Mode-esque synths with dazzling success'.
The set’s midpoint was marked by crowd favourite Ice Cream Sundae - a sickly sweet, Blossoms-esque anthem with chords that burst out of Rough Trade’s confined walls and onto Broad Street below. Guitar pop daubed with a haze of synths; it was here the band looked most comfortable. The lyric ‘I’m in the pursuit of happiness’ set the song’s ethereal tone, and shimmering guitars paired with swooning vocals saw this maintained expertly throughout. With it’s euphoric 80’s soundtrack essence, Ice Cream Sundae is a song made to be consumed with warm tinnies in the park, but it still went down a treat on a chilly Nottingham evening. When the final soaring chorus lapsed into silence, the sweet flavour of indie melancholia was left lingering in the air, the crowd drooling for another taste. The verdict? Desperately infectious and belonging on all of our playlists this autumn.
A sharp departure from Ice Cream Sundae’s dizzy euphoria came in the form of This Plastic House, which saw Hewson swap his trademark strat for a deeper, semi-hollow bodied electric as the set took a more contemplative turn. Transient, pensive, and set in the minor key, the song forwent the bouncy choruses the band are renowned for in favour of something more bittersweet. A slow burner, This Plastic House rewarded those who persevered through its shy, winding midsection with a series of stirring choruses, laden with the kind of haunting refrains that would be at home on a Brand New record. It offered a welcomed change in pace to the set and served to highlight the band’s ample breadth of talent.
‘I’ve lost my mind’, Hewson implored the crowd, ‘will my king be kind?’. Inhaler’s next offering sanded down the jagged edges of This Plastic House through combining thick and burly guitars with an earworm hook that wriggles into your head and refuses to budge. Whilst the riffs were still sharp and seeped in angst, the song was dominated by the kind of soaring chord sequence that the young band have become known for. Next came Cheer Up Baby - a track that went from a hollow, indie paradigm to a hidden gem in its concluding chorus, where the breathy cries of ‘not on your own, sinking like a stone’ left the crowd clutching at remnants of past relationships. Until then, the song had been cheerful and charming but lacking sonic depth; it is when the band revel too long in indie sensibilities that their unique sound, which they have so rigorously honed this past year, dwindles.
'It is when the band revel too long in indie sensibilities that their unique sound, which they have so rigorously honed this past year, dwindles'.
A song that was, however, utterly convincing from start to finish was My Honest Face - the band’s flagship single and an insatiable anthem. It took just seconds for the crowd to recognise the song’s joyous opening chords and spring into a euphoric trance - a fact unsurprising considering the track has amassed almost 2.5 million views on Spotify alone since it’s release. Reminiscent of Joy Division’s Disorder in the hit's pairing of moody, poetic lyrics and a dreamy, lullabye-esque synth riff, and a '1,2,3,4,5' hook that wouldn’t feel lost on Echo and The Bunnyman’s Porcupine, the hit was a splendid amalgamation of the band’s far-reaching influences. It felt warm and familiar yet utterly fresh, and made for a cathartic close to an impressively slick set.
Even after the final twinkling synths evaporated, the song's incessant hook lingered in the air, following me into the toilet where I found myself humming the verse in time with a woman in the cubicle next door. Our giggle and nod of silent agreement upon leaving was enough to secure in my mind that this band are onto something special. In conclusion? A set that left the crowd breathless, both down to a frightfully clammy venue and a young Irish foursome with vats of potential.