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  • katiehillier

I went to the last two nights of Inhaler’s tour, and this is what happened…

Inhaler, Cuts & Bruises Tour

o2 Academy, Birmingham (24/02/2023) & o2 Academy, Bristol (25/02/2023)

What began as a silly thought, something I never intended to entertain further, ended up being one of the best things I have ever decided to do… and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

My love for Bristol’s o2 Academy is no secret; it’s a three-tiered venue with a capacity just short of two thousand, in the centre of a city with a buzzing and exciting music scene. It’s an intimate live music venue, but equally, it feels huge. A great view of all the action is pretty much guaranteed. Oh, and it’s the venue that hosted the night I saw Inhaler live for the very first time.

So, when the Dublin quartet announced their imminent return to the academy, I booked my ticket and didn’t look back.

And after an evening spent on Trainline planning out my trip to Bristol, the temptation to travel to another date arose. Initially, I left it, ruling it out as a stupid idea. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of seeing my favourite band two nights consecutively.

Fast forward to Friday 24th February and I’m in a stuffy, overflowing train carriage en route to Birmingham, Cuts & Bruises blaring in my earphones in a last-minute revision of the lyrics. I’m very much from the South of England. Nobody could really understand why I’d bother to travel so far for a band.

Following a flavoursome vegetable curry in Mowgli up the road from Birmingham’s o2 Academy, I was sitting on the left-side balcony (we left tickets a bit late following my original indecision and this was all that was available) watching Birmingham's own Overpass, one of my favourite rising bands. They’re already such a tight live band and have some absolute bangers behind them (very reminiscent of Inhaler’s own), and it was so nice to see them playing in a much bigger venue after attending their headline show at Southampton’s Heartbreaker’s last year!

Next on the bill were FEET, the Coventry indie-quintet with bags full of charisma and energy, and the coolest vintage styling going on. They also played a tambourine onstage, which in my opinion, is the sign of a great band.

Anticipation was beginning to run high, and after an incredible pre-show playlist, it was time for Inhaler to grace the stage. The last time I saw the band was in October at The Engine Rooms, Southampton, where they were teasing their upcoming record and we all knew that the It Won’t Always Be Like This era was on its way out in all its optimistic, red and blue glory, when its moodier black and white counterpart, These Are The Days, became the new show opener. As the change-resenting sentimentalist I am, this change did not come lightly, but tonight, I was open to admit that this was the perfect way to get the gig going.

This meant that when the absolute classic, My Honest Face, which we all know and love as the final song of the night, was moved to the second song of the set, I embraced it, as did those in the standing area, opening up the pit minutes in and giving their all to the band. And in all honesty, It Won’t Always Be Like This is now a winning closing number with its hooks upon hooks upon hooks, even if it is a difficult reminder that the gig ‘won’t always be like this’ and all good things come to an end.

Elsewhere in the set, Love Will Get You There, despite being a new song leaning more towards the ballad, saw one of the rougher mosh pits of the night. Meanwhile, calmer, more emotionally charged tracks such as Valentine and Plastic House offered almost a breather from the blistering tour-de-force of indie anthems. The latter triggers the entire academy to light up with phone torches, whilst a kaleidoscopic spot light danced over Elijah Hewson.

In comparison to Inhaler’s previous UK tour, the lighting was crisp, colourful and all members of the band remained visible throughout the hour and twenty showtime. Musically, the band were on top form and performed the best I’ve seen them, notably with Eli’s vocals being stronger, smoother and more powerful than ever before (both nights the moment during Plastic House where Hewson sings with beautiful control "The thunder comes on so fast” and the rest of the band come in adding fuller, more dramatic sonics to the track, left me with goosebumps). So much confidence oozed from each member and they all shone, proving that the band would not work without each individual counterpart.

Thank God I booked to see them again the next night…

After a lovely morning out in Leamington Spa walking in the park and drinking the most incredible hot chocolate of my life, I boarded the train to Bristol, where I spent my afternoon mooching around the record shops and drinking coffee.

At the slightly earlier time of six forty-five, Bristol’s o2 Academy opened its doors as thousands of Inhaler fans spilled into the pit and onto the balconies. And in a refreshing outcome following having to remain seated for the entire set the night prior, tonight I was on the barrier, meaning there was plenty of room to dance!

Tonight’s line-up is the same; Overpass are onstage at seven-twenty, and thanks to o2 priority, I was inside the venue much quicker than the night before and got to see the whole of their set this time (I think I only heard the last three songs in Birmingham). It felt really good to be right in the pit, surrounded by people getting equally as excited about this band. I yearned for Overpass’s set to be longer.

FEET came onstage around 8pm, and again, the energy that they brought to the show was immense. Frontman, George Haverson, comes onstage armed with the tambourine, and has the kind of recklessly chaotic energy that Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten embodies onstage. It’s difficult to take your eyes off him as he stomps about the stage, leaning in closer to the front rows by standing on the speakers. The band seem to be in limbo somewhere between the eighties and the nineties, looking as though they’ve walked straight off of the set of Stranger Things, but sonically sounding heavily inspired by the Britpop era. I’m all for it.

Come 9pm and we’re back with the band who are the reason I’ve had such a packed weekend (in terms of events, not the amount of luggage I’d brought - those two days I spent living out of a tote bag thanks to venue policies and the sheer number of trains I was boarding).

These Are The Days opens the set once again, and given I’m on such a high from these two shows, it feels really apt. Cuts & Bruises track, So Far So Good, absolutely thrives in a live setting with its catchy chorus and dramatic desperation in Hewson’s voice on the line “Ain’t it such a shame?/We got so close/So far so good”, whilst album opener, Just To Keep You Satisfied is a sexy, sing along moment.

Despite a whole album full of new material being thrown into the mix, there’s still plenty of room for fan favourites. My King Will Be Kind seems like a permanent number on the setlist, the house lights going up on that line and every single person in the audience screaming it as if on lead vocals themselves. It’s pure euphoria.

Previously unreleased, but a fan-favourite track thanks to its place on the set lists of early 2019, Dublin In Ecstasy, with its electrifying guitar solo and nostalgic value, leaves Bristol in ecstasy, fans singing along to the riffs and the whole academy bouncing in exhilaration. Meanwhile, Love Will Get You There bizarrely opens up the pit again, but nowhere near to the extent of the night prior. It’s strange because the last time I saw Inhaler at this venue, I was clinging on for dear life, the crowd rough and unforgiving. Tonight, it’s good vibes only, everyone looking out for each other and a night of dancing rather than violence (see Ice Cream Sundae in Bristol circa 2021).

Cheer Up Baby is the feel-good sing-a-long moment leading up to the encore, which lasts longer than any other encore I’ve seen. Hewson comes back onstage now wearing a white vest, rather than the navy-blue suit he arrived in an hour earlier, before the band go into the glistening If You’re Gonna Break My Heart complete with Josh Jenkinson’s wailing, evocative guitar licks.

Rounding off the night, and a perfect couple of days, is It Won’t Be Like This, for one last anthem of optimism. There’s clarity in the lighting, no members lost in the fog, the colours flitting between red and blue. Maybe the IWABLT era never left.

As the house lights come up, I begin the stages of the comedown from the high. Fans try to cling onto the night, begging the stage crew for tiny souvenirs from the evening. We file out of the venue into the February night. Consider these February blues cured.

Whilst this has taken me forever to write, gathering the words to do the weekend justice both on a journalistic and personal level, all I can say is do it. There’s no better feeling than having a favourite band. And if you love a band, go and see them as much as necessary. Wear their merch with pride, feel the music, have a good time, no matter where you are in the venue. Get ‘caught in the ride of being young and alive’. And don’t look back.



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