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Nothing But Thieves Live At Motorpoint Arena – Review

A stadium filled show incised with energy, mosh pits and some sensational vocals. 

Nothing But Thieves Live At Mototrpoint Arena Live Review by EJ Scanlan

A stadium filled show incised with energy, mosh pits and some sensational vocals. 

When you ask me to name a British rock band who are extraordinary, I’d give you one name: Nothing But Thieves. Since becoming a finalist in the 2015 Prospect Music Award at the start of that year, they’ve slowly but surely become one of the greatest rock bands in the UK. Their infamous sound has captured indie-rock fans from all over the world. Their iconic records haven’t gone unnoticed by critics and all three of their albums have some incredibly memorable parts to them.

Their self-titled debut album showcased who they are as a band as well as their versatility and collaboration with each other. Their sophomore album, “Broken Machine” quite literally made their sound. Every single track is effortless yet complex and completely works, resulting in it being my second favourite album of 2017 (behind Wolf Alice’s revolutionary record “Visions Of A Life”). But their latest project, “Moral Panic” and its succeeding EP “Moral Panic II” have issues. Their ideas are there and their versatile sound resonates well once again, resulting in one of the best-produced projects of the year, however, its similarity and experimentation into more of a pop sound made it feel messy and unexecuted.

Tonight, they’re playing Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, the final show of their Moral Panic Tour. I’m expecting a hell of a show, but also want to see how they showcase their past album’s strengths and how they can utilise Moral Panic’s concept and political messaging. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the band live, and previously their sound hasn’t lived up to their performances. I’m hoping tonight can change my perception of what this band are like live, as I’m a big fan of what they do and the ideas they have, I just wish to see them execute those ideas way better.

First up was support act, Airways, who previously won the Prospect Music Award back in 2019, beating the likes of Lewis Capaldi and Billie Eilish, and the set they gave isn’t hard to see why. Their charisma is out of this world, and by the sounds of their debut album that came out last week (and beat Sugababes!) they’re going places, and they deserve to get there.

The second and final support act was YONAKA, where you will know my opinions on them if you’ve read my review of their latest EP, Seize The Power, (review here). This is the third time I’ve seen them live, and despite their previous live performances being underwhelming, this was completely the opposite. YONAKA were in their element, showing off exactly why they are the most underappreciated acts out there, even giving new meaning to the tracks that I hated on that EP, making me have a whole new appreciation for them live, and that they have WAY more to give. They made that support slot their own, starting mosh pits, Theresa Jarvis’ vocals being some of the best I’ve ever heard at this venue. For thirty minutes, this wasn’t a Nothing But Thieves show, this was a YONAKA show, making this one of the best support slots I’ve ever seen, and giving our headline act a lot to live up to. Give YONAKA an arena tour and they will absolutely smash it.

Then, the lights went down, the crowd roared with excitement and adrenaline, as suddenly, the speakers blew and the lights empowered the room, as Nothing But Thieves had arrived with a bang, blasting out the lead single from “Moral Panic II”, “Futureproof”. I’ve never seen a gig start so rapidly before, but it worked. They were here, this was the final night of their first-ever arena tour, and they were gonna slay it. The guitars sounded fantastic as the crowd incised themselves in the euphoria as lead singer Conor Mason ended the song with some sensational vocals to a sensational song. This was what this show was going to be, and I was ready for the ride. This was then followed by “Real Love Song”, a track I thought would have worked during the middle of the set, but was performed astoundingly nether the less. The energy was pumping, goosebumps ran down my spine as the crowd sung the beautifully written chorus and jumping to the tracks instantly recognisable guitar chords. It was a sight I’ll never forget, especially as the song is deeply personal to me, and when Mason delivered the final note expertly, I instantly knew that this was going to be their best show yet and there was this real stadium feel to it. It’s a feeling I’ve not felt before and I loved every second of it.

They then went on to perform “I Was Just A Kid”, the opening track from the band’s sophomore album “Broken Machine”, where the stage set was phenomenal all the way through. Throughout the show, it was a very light-heavy stage, giving it a simple but effective kind of feel, but the flashes of blue, red and green throughout gave off the energy that the crowd needed to start the first big mosh pit of their set, with once again, Mason’s vocals blew the roof off the arena. “Trip Switch”, taken from their self-titled debut album was played next, and once again, the guys know how to bring the energy. The singing from the crowd made this show a full celebration of their entire career thus far, which was refreshing to see. Conor Mason then had an acoustic guitar in hand as he and the band played “Soda”, which was a sight I want to remember for the rest of my life. Hearing 10,000 people singing this song back to the band was amazing, and with “Soda” being a deep cut from “Broken Machine”, you can tell that the entire crowd are true Nothing But Thieves fans, and having that power over a crowd is something I’ve only ever seen the greats such as Adele, The Specials and Florence + The Machine do, a moment best described by frontman Mason as he screamed: “what a fucking great last night”.

Moving on from that, the band went on to perform “Itch”, where the band chemistry was second to none all the way through. All members were on fire here as the band crushed the entire song, sounding like once again, they were on stage at Wembley Stadium, not Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena. This stadium filled energy continued with “Sorry”, which was one of the most emotional moments of the night for me. The energy turned lustful and passionate as everyone was jumping, dancing and moshing in one of the greatest gig moments I’ve felt in a very long time, reminding me why I’m alive, why I do my job and why music is my absolute passion.

Conor went off stage while the remaining members of the band jammed to show off what they can do, and the live presence and instrumentation is some of the best I’ve seen in many years, providing the crowd with a show filled with phenomenal collaboration and energy which worked in every single way. But this wasn’t just an ordinary jam, this was the long-winded introduction to “Forever And Ever More”, the lead single from the band’s 2018 EP, “What Did You Think When You Made Me This Way?”, the title being a direct lyric from the song in question, where once again, the energy was transcendent all across the 10,000 capacity venue. I couldn’t stop shaking from the excitement and euphoria of it all. I was in awe of what I was seeing, and I fell in love. This then went onto the band performing the second track from their latest EP, “Moral Panic II”, “Miracle, Baby”, a track which showed off Mason’s vocals, where his stage presence was undeniable, and the crowd loved it.

At this point, while explaining about the band’s next song, “Graveyard Whistling”, Conor spotted something was up in the standing area, as the crowd were chanting “get him out” and asked security to find out what was going on and sort it out, where he didn’t continue until the person in question was kicked out of the venue. I commend this of him and the rest of the band, ensuring that his fans feel safe while inside venues. Not enough artists do that, and he has my respect for doing so. The mood began to sombre in that moment, but he decided to carry on, as he knew he needed to. He began to say that they’ve played this song for ten years, as he was reflecting on his band’s success and started to play the track, and as it went on, the mood began to pick again as everyone got out their phone torches and sing along to every word. It was a beautiful moment for sure, despite that incredibly shitty moment prior.

The lights went down once again as the original teaser for the “Moral Panic” album played, which was used during “This Feels Like The End” on the actual record, meaning we were approaching the big Moral Panic part of the album. The teaser was an announcer voice saying:

“There’s a tension in the air. Everyone can feel it. Seven reported dead in the street, it permeates everything. It’s in our homes, our chlorinated chicken. Seventeen reported dead. We stare at whatever clickbait debate next goes viral. Plastic opinions and drive thru funerals, everything has a price. And then you. Your consent is manufactured and you are being sold, categorized and catalogued, passed on and processed for whatever scheme is next designed to keep us compartmentalized and at each other’s goddamn throats. Fifty-seven reported dead Where does it end? Is this it? At what point do we say no? We are people, surely we are better than this?”

The quote in question I love and reiterates “Moral Panic”’s left-wing political theming immersed through the album, as then we go to the record’s opener: “Unperson”, and this is where my nit-picks start to come in. The resonant electronic guitar sound was nowhere to be found in the live performance, as it was replaced with a more rocky guitar sound, which didn’t have the same effect. Mason missed out lyrics to get the crowd to sing along, where they unfortunately didn’t. It’s fair to say that he underestimated the song’s success, as great as the recorded version is. He then went on to perform “Phobia”, the universally loved deep cut from the record, which began perfectly. The haunting and creepy atmosphere was present, sending chills down my spine. Everyone was singing, but very quietly, as Mason does so effortlessly in the recorded version. As the song picked up, “Phobia” had the same shortcoming as its preceding track, as the guitar sound wasn’t the same as the recorded one, which didn’t work live. The final part of the song however was incredible, as I saw ten mosh pits break out in the crowd as the song reaches its eventful and dramatic conclusion. My issue is, if you create such an atmospheric track that is produced sensationally on a record, as an artist, you need to be one step ahead of yourself and think about how you can play this live. I want this to be fleshed out more so in future shows, as I’m certain they’ll be playing this again in the future, especially after the reaction towards the song on the night.

Mason got out his acoustic guitar once again, this time to perform a stripped-down version of “Broken Machine”’s big ballad, “Particles”, which worked so well. This version gave a whole new light to the song which benefits the main version even more so. The crowd fell silent as they heard and cried to the beautiful acoustics of the room, eventually resulting in a singalong which would be one of the most beautiful moments of the night. This then went to Mason playing his guitar solo for “Your Blood”, the final track of “Moral Panic II”, delving into that intimacy that the band can deliver so well, even in a stadium-like event. The emotion in his voice was effortless and emotional, provoking tears from me as the song reminds me of heartbreak, which I’ve recently been through myself, with goosebumps tingling down my neck as he sings. The band transition into the main part of the song was completely effortless, as Mason’s vocals flawed me as he sang the bridge, moving onto its instrumental, which was slightly underwhelming live, but besides that, the track was remarkably performed.

Straight after, the band went into “Is Everybody Going Crazy”, a track which isn’t the strongest in Nothing But Thieves’ discography, but one that certainly got the energy crew going. This song quite literally made everyone go crazy. This was then followed by “Amsterdam”, which is one of the band’s strongest songs in my opinion and is always the highlight whenever I see them, and this was the case again, as the track just has the perfect live presence to it, the stadium sound, vibes and everything else made it work so well, making it sound even better live than on record. It’s a shame that vocalist Conor Mason ducked the big high note here, as that would have made the song even better.

Two more songs were played in the setlist for the encore, and the first was my favourite deep cut from “Broken Machine”, ”I’m Not Made By Design”, a song which once again, provoked real energy from the crowd. As the song with their most extravagant instrumental, they made more of this, teasing this big part bit by bit, a piece of genius by the band, as then the payoff was completely worth it. The band then went into their final song of the night: “Impossible”. This I believed was an unusual choice of track to finish on, as the song is a big power ballad and unlike what they usually do. It’s also my least favourite song from Nothing But Thieves’ back catalogue, I personally hate the track, but as soon as they played it, I instantly understood why they decided to place it here. The atmosphere was a calming one, and most of all, a climatic one. Everyone felt at peace and in solidarity with one another, and it was beautiful to see, and as the confetti exploded through the arena on that final chorus, it felt like the perfect end to a near-perfect show.

So overall, Nothing But Thieves really impressed me tonight. The performance was the best time I’ve ever seen them, their ability to perform a live show has improved a lot since I last saw them three years ago. I was amazed at what I saw, the atmosphere, the enthusiastic crowd, the staging, everything. I was proved wrong tonight in a lot of areas and I’m very glad that I was, as these guys have become one of the greatest live bands out there. Despite the hiccups midway through the set, this is up there with one of my favourite live shows of the year, and I hope to god that we see them headlining Wembley Stadium within the next ten years because these guys deliver something special.

Ranking: ⭐

Setlist:

  1.   Futureproof (Moral Panic II)
  2.   Real Love Song (Moral Panic)
  3.   I Was Just A Kid (Broken Machine)
  4.   Trip Switch (Nothing But Thieves)
  5.   Soda (Broken Machine)
  6.   Itch (Nothing But Thieves)
  7.   Sorry (Broken Machine)
  8.   Forever And Ever More (WDYTWYMMTW?)
  9.   Miracle, Baby (Moral Panic II)
  10.   Graveyard Whistling  (Nothing But Thieves)
  11.   Unperson (Moral Panic)
  12.   Phobia (Moral Panic)
  13.   Particles [Acoustic] (Broken Machine)
  14.   Your Blood (Moral Panic II)
  15.   Is Everybody Going Crazy? (Moral Panic)
  16.   Amsterdam (Broken Machine)
  17.    I’m Not Made By Design (Broken Machine)
  18.    Impossible (Moral Panic)