When we chose The Academic as one of our Plec Picks in 2014, the implication was that the Mullingar four-piece were going places. A Friday night in Vicar Street is places, isn’t it? This is the group’s biggest headline show to date, and there’s a bit of a celebratory atmosphere pervading the room all evening.
The band themselves are full of gratitude for the people who have helped and supported them for the last number of years. A couple of million streams later and with a bona fide hit in Different, they seem to have built some momentum. For all the back-slapping that goes on in the course of the concert, there’s a mighty atmosphere at times, but you could never say the roof comes off.
After a solid set by newcomers Ivy Nations, the main support act State Lights are quietly impressive. Not diverging much from the template laid out by battalions of pop-rock bands before them, every track aspires to anthemhood. To their credit songs such as Sunday Come Back, achieve it, while singer Shosby’s falsetto game is admirably strong.
The Academic have clearly developed as performers and songwriters. There’s plenty of feel-good ‘ah-ah-ah’ choruses and songs made for mainstream radio. Cut, like their support acts, from a familiar cloth, most songs feature some combination of pounded barre chords and clean guitar lines, all played very loudly over a lovingly battered drum kit.
As is the way with this type of music, the hype attaching itself to the band is probably less a result of what exactly they’re doing than how well they’ve proven they can do it. The guitar chops are up to scratch, as are Craig Fitzgerald’s vocals. They mix tunes from their ‘Loose Friends’ EP with a sprinkling of unreleased tracks. If they haven’t had one to match the popularity of Different yet, songs such as Sometimes, Gloria, and Mixtape 2003 could well come close.
They never seem less than appreciative of the fact they’ve risen to a venue like Vicar St. after so long plugging away at the city’s more intimate venues. They’re sufficiently versed in the ways of stagecraft to leave the stage to await the chants of ‘one more tune’ preceding their pre-ordained encore.
They end on Different, the crowd more involved than at any other point of the evening. It’s hard to tell with a band like The Academic where they’re going from here. They could prove to be a flash in the pan, with one huge song but little to mark them out, or a group destined for a lengthy career. Whether their first night in Vicar Street is an early milestone or the peak of the mountain is yet to be determined. It could be either.