By: Lindsay Barnes
It was surprisingly appropriate that legendary tennis bad-boy John McEnroe introduced the Thrills at a recent show in New York City. From the first riff to the last chord, the Irish quintet seemed out to prove that, despite the bright tone of their songs, they are a band with attitude to spare. While the Thrills certainly didn’t come off as wild as the over-the-top Johnny Mac did in his prime, their Ireland-via-the-Pacific sound translated well live as fun, high-energy rock and made for an entertaining 90-minute set.
The Thrills had their work cut out for them–they followed a particularly raucous set from the Liverpool-based Zutons, who sounded like the Clash with an ear for four-part harmony and a honking alto sax. But the Thrills were up to the task from the start, kicking off the party with guitarist Daniel Ryan’s fist-pumping- riff from “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.” Choosing to go with the dynamic first track off their new album Let’s Bottle Bohemia as the opening song of the night, they set the rollicking tone for the rest of the evening.
The Thrills sounded like a rock band, and singer Conor Deasy made sure they looked like one, too. He seemed comfortable in the role of front man, doing his fair share of Bono-esque hand gestures and imploring the crowd to join in the singing. Deasy left the singing up to the audience entirely for the chorus of “Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far)” from their debut So Much For The City. Though the Thrills have only been on the radar in America for a year now, many in attendance knew the words by heart and assured Deasy that his sing-a-long request did not fall on deaf ears.
Deasy’s exaggerated style would have looked absolutely ridiculous were it not for the stuff coming out of his bandmates’ amplifiers. Drummer Ben Carrigan was clearly in the driver’s seat, providing the power and precision that, when coupled with Ryan’s ringing Telecaster, made the Thrills sound less like a Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and more like a Green-era R.E.M.
This sort of stripped-down approach made for numerous crowd favorites. The group played “Big Sur” with enthusiasm that washed over the audience like the waves crashing on the California coast.”Say It Ain’t So” was a welcome hoedown that had the crowd dancing.That spirit also infused “The Irish Keep Gate Crashing,” a joyful romp that featured Deasy’s sweet, raspy falsetto. “Not For All The Love In The World” was the one ballad of the evening, and it provided an opportunity for Ryan to play a simple yet elegant lullaby solo.
Unfortunately, it was one of the only instrumental solos of the evening. After hearing the group play as a collective, it’s clear that both Ryan and keyboardist Kevin Horan have the chops to show off a little bit. They shouldn’t try to fill the jam-band void left by Phish, but were Ryan and Horan given the opportunity to improvise every once in a while, it would give the Thrills a more complete sound and take some of the pressure off Deasy.
Make no mistake; this was a wonderful show. The Thrills’ live act can best be described as irrepressibly cheerful and boisterous at the same time. If the Strokes are rock ‘n’ roll for Saturday night,then the Thrills are rock ‘n’ roll for Sunday morning. The Dubliners play with just as much vigor as their New York counterparts, and do so with a warmth that turns any night into a day at the beach.