LIVE: Twin Atlantic / The Xcerts / Nothing But Thieves @ Roundhouse, London

By Ben Tipple

From the moment we wander up to Camden’s Roundhouse, some two hours before doors open, it’s clear that tonight is already causing excitement. The queue is dominated by enthusiastic teens, although later the significantly older generation of onlookers outside of the venue’s notorious inner circle becomes notable. All provide evidence of Twin Atlantic’s evolution. No longer an underground melodic rock outfit, the Scottish four-piece are reaping the benefits of commercial success.

Opening act and all round popstars in the making Nothing But Thieves take to the stage with a decidedly oversized backdrop – especially in comparison to their confined space in between the headliner’s equipment. With a voice to match the grandiose logo, the Southend five-piece showcase some exceptional skill through Conor Mason. Musically, the band take the edge out of the likes of Twin Atlantic, perhaps sitting more favourly amongst the barage of guitar driven pop upstars gracing the radiowaves. The end result may not be to everyone’s taste, but few would be against Nothing But Thieves rising through the ranks.

Taking to the stage as main support, The Xcerts are keen to battle tonight’s headliners for their moment. Not only does today mark the release of their exceptional third record – with ‘Live Like This’, ‘I Don’t Care’, ‘Pop Song’ and ‘Shaking In The Water’ on show tonight – it also marks the fourth time at the iconic Roundhouse for the Aberdeen trio. Although there is a clear distinction in style between new and old the effect is limited by a clever setlist choice, as the new material sits comfortably against the likes of ‘Slackerpop’ and ‘Do You Feel Safe’. What sounds huge on record sounds equally big tonight, if not slightly marred by frustrating sound levels. It’s a credit to the new material that is still manages to dominate through the muffled PA, elevated by the crowd’s chants and screams – ultimately drawing many towards the stage. [BT]

Coming on stage to Queen is a high-risk strategy at the best of times; coming on stage immediately after your entire crowd has been headbanging and singing along to six-minute magnum opus ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ IN ITS ENTIRETY is the act of a band who know without a shadow a doubt that their live show can immediately exorcise Freddie Mercury’s ghost of Rock Past and jolt their audience violently into the present.

It might seem like an odd choice, following Queen’s bombastic pomp with ‘The Ones That I Love’. The first track from latest album ‘Great Divide’ treads the line between ‘slow burn’ and ‘damp squib’ with all the grace of a drunk rhinoceros in a room full of mirrors, but it was clearly conceived as an ‘epic opener’ and we’re glad they got it out of the way early; what follows is a nineteen(!) song masterclass in how to pace a set while holding the crowd in the palm of your hand.

As Twin Atlantic whip up a frenzy with high-energy bangers like ‘Fall Into The Party’ and ‘Edit Me’, there’s a keen sense of showmanship on display. Frontman Sam McTrusty takes to the stage in what appears to be a white anorak and seems to spend as much time with his arms aloft, egging on and controlling the crowd like a musical minister presiding over a sweaty sermon. And his flock lap it up.

Like fellow Scots Biffy Clyro, Twin Atlantic manage to pull off the trick of seeming both completely at home at, and utterly humbled to be playing these larger venues. Drawing material almost exclusively from ‘Free’ and ‘Great Divide’ (which is played in its entirety, though not in order) there’s a lot to love here for newer fans but probably a distinct sense of disappointment for fans of their older material. McTrusty and co are under no illusions as to what material’s put them in the position they are today and there’s no deliberately awkward artistry, just balls-to-the-wall modern rock classics.

The musicianship is impeccable; Barry McKenna effortlessly switching between guitar and cello (how long, I wonder, before this alternating one-man string section becomes ‘a thing’) and Ross McNae’s melodic basslines really coming into their own (‘Make A Beast Of Myself’ is a particular highlight). There’s a confidence to Twin Atlantic’s performance which has been missing in the past, but it’s not to be mistaken for swagger or arrogance. ‘This will never be normal to us’, McTrusty tells the crowd, probably not for the first time. It’s hard not to believe him and it’s this affable sincerity which allows him to get away with having the entire standing crowd (us included) sit down on the floor solely to bring a literal conclusion to ‘Time For You To Stand Up’.

Proceedings slow down for the heartfelt ‘Crash Land’ – not a bad song by any means, but one which only truly comes to life as a shared crowd experience – the ‘lighters in the air’ cliché is deliberately and effectively updated for the twenty-first century and in this perfectly circular space (The Roundhouse is a very literal name), it’s strangely beautiful to see several thousand mobile phone flashlights swaying in time to the music.

By the time the encore arrives it seems too soon, and mind-boggling to believe the band have played the equivalent of two full albums. The whole thing’s just so much fun, for band and audience alike. As they end on an extended, transformed and triumphant ‘Heart and Soul’ it’s pretty clear that while the journey here may have taken seven years, this is a band about to slip into sixth gear and race well ahead of their contemporaries. Suddenly, that Queen intro doesn’t seem so cocky – they may have emerged to the ghost of Rock Past, but Twin Atlantic are very much its future. [RB]