This past week saw something many fans of The Academic have been waiting for for five years: Their sophomore L.P. release. The Rochfortbridge, County Westmeath-based Irish four-piece – who formed while still at high school together – put out their debut record Tales From The Backseat in 2018 to strong reviews garnering a loyal fanbase. But a heavy touring schedule followed by the uncertainty thrown out by the COVID-19 pandemic saw them take time out to put together a worthy follow-up. And so Sitty Pretty was born, and released just one week back as the group’s current UK headline tour draws to a close, the final show being tonight’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire outing.
The room erupts as the Irish four-piece stride onto the West London stage shrouded in ominous darkness and taking up their respective positions, the lights coming up as they burst into the opening bars of Sitting Pretty opener Pushing Up Daisies. The tension in the Empire is immediately unleashed, a bounce rippling across the standing crowd that barely lets up for the 90 minute set.
“Londoooooon” screams frontman Craig Fitzgerald as the group storm into Acting My Age E.P. tune Anything Could Happen, guitarist Matthew Murtagh exuding a Johnny Marr come Billy Joe Armstrong vibe as he struts between drummer Dean Gavin’s riser and his mic, for backing vocal duties.
“Shepherd’s Bush How you doing?” Fitzgerald screams as the tempo increases for 2016 tune Mixtape 2003, the frontman making the most of the Shepherd’s Bush stage, bass player and other Murtagh brother Stephen stepping forward to jam, the fast-paced tune over in a blink.
“We’re playing Shepherd’s Bush everybody” the frontman offers in genuine disbelief before continuing “We have a new album, it’s called Sitting Pretty. It only took us 5 years and we’re going to play a song from it”, introducing Let Go Of My Heart.
The Academic @ Shepherd's Bush Empire
Tales From The Backseat single Why Can’t We Be Friends has the crowd immediately singing along, the alt-rock tinged fan-favourite underpinned by a slow groove and delicious guitar work from the elder Murtagh brother, driven by a catchy hook, making it an immediate earworm.
“Alright, what’s the craic, are we all good? This is the last night of our U.K. run” Fitzgerald offers before describing the young group’s familiarity with London following writing and recording their second record in the city. Upbeat, bouncy This Is Your Life from said record is aired next, Fitzgerald making one of many visits to the fans at the venue’s barrier, the crowd responding wildly before debut L.P. indie anthem I Feel It Too has the crowd woah-oohing along in earnest, the frontman handing vocal duties over to his audience for a time.
The slow-drive, 1970’s-tinged Buying Smokes is seemingly a complete departure from the group’s standard indie-rock fare and the highlight of both the Sitting Pretty L.P. and tonight’s show, the group making the most of a live performance to crank the destroyed ending of the tune to the next level before diving straight into new album cut Don’t Take It Personally.
What’s Wrong With Me, is reminiscent of 1990’s Britpop, storming rhythm and over-bent lead guitars coupled with organ overlays adding flavoured dimensions. Fitzgerald holds up the Irish stereotype, commenting on the Guiness he’s drinking (it’s from a can!) before the group kick off 2020 E.P. title track Acting My Age. “Give it up for everyone working this beautiful venue” Fitzgerald requests, a gesture rarely offered by acts on stage, caught up in their own incredible ride but welcomed by the bar staff I’m in close proximity to.
“Anybody have a good Valentine’s Day?” the frontman asks, to a few cheers. “Anybody have a shit Valentine’s Day?”, the cheers audibly louder as the band echo the audience’s heartbreak with slow-drive Homesick. Debut record tune Northern Boy continues the slow and sombre mood, the frontman encouraging his audience to sway their arms along, a gesture taken up across the two tiers of crowd in attendance, cheers ringing out as words are changed to reflect the city and locale of tonight’s show.
My Very Best has videographer Johnny Wolf more prominently on stage to record a live music video of the new album cut before pulsing, Blossoms-esque “love song” Step My Way is aired. “We’re going to play a brand new song that’s going to be on the next album” Fitzgerald teases before rousing main set closer Different, the debut record anthem clearly oh so familiar to the London crowd as they sing along from the barrier to the bar at the back of the main arena.
Chants of “one more song” encourage the lads back to the stage before too long. Bounce-along Right Where You Left Me kicks off the trio of songs the group close out with, folks back on the shoulders of friends as if this were a summer festival slot.
Soulful debut L.P. tune Girlfriend has the Shepherd’s Bush Empire singing along in earnest, Fitzgerald requesting audience participation to wind the tune up before the night is finally closed out with Bear Claws. “London was always a stressful place to come and play” the frontman laments, describing the unpleasant times they’d had playing the British capital for so many years. “The last couple of years it’s been amazing”. “You guys have given us a career outside of our hometown, so thank you” he continues. And he genuinely means it.
The Academic will continue to road-test Sitting Pretty across Europe through March, wrapping up on this side of the Atlantic with a Dublin show at 3 Olympia on 10th March before heading across for an extensive North American run through April.
Live review and photography of The Academic @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Kalpesh Patel on 24th February 2023.