Amber Run, the indie rock band from Nottingham, are on their first ever world tour. After their Oxford gig, which happened on 18thOctober, they’re heading across the pond with their newest album, Philophobia. The band still feels just as innovative and grounded as they were in 2015, but word is spreading about their beautiful-yet-almost-mainstream music. It’s an alluring combination that Oxford seems to have picked up on.
Opening with the album’s exhilarating combination “Leader Countdown” / “Neon Circus”, it was easy to sense the crowd’s hunger after a more sultry support act. But rather than just rattle through Philophobia, they instead performed a set that encompassed a lot of their musical history: as lead singer Joe Keogh repeated, “we’ve got three albums… we’ve got a lot to get through.” Philophobia is closer to Amber Run’s lyrical debut album 5am than the rhythmic For A Moment, I was Lost, allowing the band to weave new songs with old. Back in the limelight after two years, it seemed like Amber Run were keener to reward long-time fans than to sell their newest album.
The supporting act was Stereo Honey, best known for their indie hit “What Makes a Man”. Vocalist Pete Restrick has a disarmingly luxurious falsetto, easing us into an eclectic-yet-directed mix of drum-heavy acoustic indie. Indeed, for the entry into “sad boy territory” (Keogh’s words, not mine), the band invited Restrick back for a mic-sharing rendition of “Affection”, straight off of Philophobia. The duet was a perfect example of the dichotomy of Amber Run’s style, at once both touchingly intimate and freshly energetic. Amber Run is undeniably sexy; Keogh wears his heart plainly on his sleeve as he sings. Although there were frustrating balance issues from the sound deck, the grittier reverb only further enhanced the sense that the high-octane band were barely contained by the four walls of the O2.
Spirituality, love and loss were all covered in the exhaustive set. Older anthems such as “Just My Soul Responding” were interwoven with the richer, vulnerable songs of Philophobia – “The Darkness Has a Voice”, “What Could Be As Lonely As Love” and “Carousel”. Perhaps the most memorable moment was the emotional “Amen”, a stand-alone single with Amber Run’s usual smoke-and-drums stripped away to expose the raw beauty of Keogh’s voice as he sings their most painful song. This poignancy continued with “Haze” and “Dark Bloom”, demonstrating the breadth of the set and Amber Run’s emotional generosity. As the band climbed back up in energy, the audience matched the energy of renditions of die-hard favourites such as “Noah” and “Spark”. Despite a few heckles, Amber Run had correctly judged the crowd as a more-than-casual group of listeners.
Even their final anthem, “No Answers”, wasn’t quite enough for the crowd, and Amber Run returned to the stage one last time for a generous three-song encore, finishing with their biggest hit, “I Found”. No-one could be left disappointed.