It’s been a whirlwind three weeks for Heathers since the release of their widely acclaimed second album, Kingdom. The sisters Macnamara have been in hot demand, from record store signings to nationwide radio interviews and even a slot performing on the opening Late Late Show of the season. It’s all been leading up to taking the album on the road nationwide with a stage-plan far removed from what they’ve been accustomed to in the past – they upped the ante production-wise on their latest offering, and now the lone acoustic guitar of tours gone by requires some company to do the songs justice. Tonight the stage of The Academy is set for Heathers’ debut headline show in the capital, and as the venue fills up, it becomes evident that they’ve surpassed expectation before the first chord is even struck – it’s a sell-out.
An impressive visual backdrop heralds their arrival onstage, accompanied by a duo of men-in-black session musicians. The opening notes of Kingdom’s opening track ‘Circular Road’ kick in – the pacey alt-pop anthem is undeniably one of the standout tracks on the album, so it’s a real shame that someone forgot to plug in Louise’s guitar. It’s a ropey start, but the impressive ‘Waiter’ redeems it quickly and they really hit their stride with ‘The Third Rail’, the emphatic middle-eight of which seems designed to be appreciated in a live setting. Louise takes the bold step of going guitar-less for the electronic leanings of ‘Lions, Tigers, Bears’ – awkward as it may be for her, it really allows her vocals to shine, a flawless rendition heightened by the beat-laden backing track. However, whilst the tracks work very well in some scenarios, in others they prove to be an annoyance – particularly the pre-programmed cello presence on several songs. Considering Heathers have often played with live cello in the past, it makes for a definite void in the stage setup.
There’s an acoustic trio of oldies mid-set, much to the delight of long-time fans. ‘Remember When’ gets the sing-along going, but annoyingly ‘Reading in the Dark’ and the sublime ‘Slices of Palama’ are overshadowed by audience chatter – such is the downside of having hit singles and moving up the venue ladder, as a certain percentage of revellers come along to hear the few songs they love from the radio and spare no thought for those there for the whole package. The emotive ‘We Burn Bridges’ (as featured in US TV series ‘Mob Wives’, amusingly), backed solely by piano, thankfully doesn’t suffer the same fate – again a stunning vocal rendition, Ellie at the fore this time, but the dual harmonies exquisite.
Heathers finish the evening with a bang – ‘Forget Me Knots’ allows the capacity crowd to find their voice again, before ‘Gather Up’, another of the duo’s more new electronic-rooted tracks, steals the show. ‘Find A Way’ is fittingly reserved as the encore song of choice, a long-time live favourite which was given a slick makeover for the purpose of Kingdom and now possesses a new might as a show-closer. “We were expecting to see maybe two rows of people here tonight”, admitted Ellie and Louise – but going on tonight’s performance, they may well get used to having a ‘sold out’ sign adorning venue doors.