Last year, I travelled to Madrid for the illustrious Mad Cool festival. It was by no means an original thought; at my hostel, swarms of wristband-clad twenty-somethings assembled in the lobby each afternoon, having travelled to the Spanish capital for the five-day festival. Newfound friends exchanged WhatsApp numbers and daily group chats formed. As phones were passed from hand to hand, I chatted with an Aussie backpacker in the corner of the lobby. Ryan’s trip across Europe just so happened to coincide with Mad Cool, but due to time differences in his home country, he’d recently discovered that he’d bought the wrong day ticket to the festival. Having hoped to see the Friday lineup, with Muse, Incubus, The War on Drugs, alt-J, and beyond, he was stuck with us Thursday folk, busy preparing ourselves for The Killers, Foals, and Imagine Dragons, among others (what a downgrade, Ryan, *rolls eyes*). 

Ryan and I became fast friends, in part because we each had one foot out of the door. Ryan was itching to see a band that was on in 40 minutes, and the flock of people at our hostel moved cheerfully, yet slowly. We darted to the metro, covering all the get-to-know-you material as we weaved through people, eager to make it to the festival. Once there, we beelined to the band Ryan so desperately wanted to see. I hadn’t heard of them before, but from the first five minutes, I was hooked. One year later, I’ve now seen Nothing But Thieves three times in three countries and, each time, I fall in love with them all over again.

The band performs “Welcome to the DCC”, the first song of their set. Photo taken by Swathi Srinivasan at the House of Blues Cleveland on 22 September 2023.

Originally from Southend-on-Sea (“Southend”, as my friend Ross often corrects me) Nothing But Thieves has made waves in the English rock scene ever since their formation in 2012. The five-piece band consists of lead vocalist/guitarist Conor Mason, guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown, drummer James Price, guitarist/keyboardist Dominic Craik, and bassist Philip Blake. Within a year of signing to RCA records, the band of then-young adults released their self-titled debut album in 2015. A single off the album, “Itch”, landed Hottest Record and Track Of The Day on Radio 1, and soon after, the band gained interest from My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way and AWOLNATION to join ongoing tours. By 2020, the band released an EP, What Did You Think When You Made Me This Way?, as well as two albums, Broken Machine and Moral Panic, which topped UK charts at second and third, respectively.

In June 2023, the band released their fourth studio album, Dead Club City, prompting a tour across Australia, the U.S., and Europe. I caught one of their festival performances at Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival earlier this summer, but the lineup was such that the band’s performance overlapped with the festival’s headliner for the day, The 1975. While I was personally content with skipping the first few minutes of Matty Healy’s theatrics, my friend had flown across the ocean to see him, so we left the Nothing But Thieves set early. Feeling left without closure, I scrolled through their list of upcoming performances and was overjoyed to discover that they would be visiting my Ohio hometown right around the time that I’d be back.

Guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown harmonises during the performance. Photo taken by Swathi Srinivasan at the House of Blues Cleveland on 22 September 2023.

Flash forward two months; I’m at the House of Blues Cleveland, awaiting my third Nothing But Thieves performance. Curious as to how the band would adjust to a U.S. crowd, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the show was sold out – I could barely make my way to the photo pit! The crowd buzzed after a high-energy performance from the Hastings-native Alt/Indie group Kid Kapichi. This night was feeling more and more like the packed festivals in Madrid and Glasgow, something I wasn’t expecting from Cleveland, Ohio.

As the band took to the stage, I started off a bit differently than I have other shows. Instead of prepping my camera and readying my stance, I stood in the corner and joined in the applause. After all, I owed them a round of applause from last time. Not to mention, they’d come all the way from the UK to Ohio. The crowd roared as Mason took to the mic at centre-stage, singing “Welcome to the DCC”, the opening song of the Dead Club City album. The crowd immediately began moving to the catchy tune, an earworm filled with punchy, dance-worthy beats. This energy continued as the band followed with “Is Everyone Going Crazy?” and “Tomorrow is Closed” (my personal favourite). I couldn’t help but dance (even in the photo pit), grinning at the fact that, for as long as I’ve known them, the band had just been like that — high-energy and magnetic. 

Lead singer Conor Mason’s pink hair shines under the spotlight. Photo taken by Swathi Srinivasan at the House of Blues Cleveland on 22 September 2023.

From songs like “Broken Machine” and “Sorry” off of their 2017 album Broken Machine, to recent releases from Dead Club City like “Keeping You Around”, “Do You Love Me Yet?” and “Pop the Balloon”, the band covered several years of releases with equal zest and excitement. “Real Love Song” and “Impossible” had couples embracing, as “Unperson”, “Phobia”, and “Futureproof” appealed to the hard-core side of the crowd (all from Moral Panic and its 2021 expanded re-release). Young teens and retirees alike sang along, pumping fists and rock n’ roll signs into the air. The energy in the room was palpable.

I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride. Despite being born and raised in Ohio, I’ve come to feel a deep affection for the UK. I’ve given in to impassioned renditions of Oasis with strangers in the streets after a long night out. I’ve judged many a Guinness Game competition in a dimly-lit pub. I’ve properly distinguished between chip, crisp, and fry, not to mention all the different names for football. After two years, I’ve immersed myself in the UK. In doing so, however, my worlds have felt further apart. None of my hometown friends had heard of Nothing But Thieves, and I’d been hard-pressed to find folks in the UK who could locate my home state on a map. 

Dom Craik jams out on the guitar, as Philip Blake stays cool and collected on the bass. Photos taken by Swathi Srinivasan at the House of Blues Cleveland on 22 September 2023.

With a packed crowd at the House of Blues Cleveland singing its lungs out to the penultimate song, “Amsterdam”, something about the Nothing But Thieves concert was heartwarming. I was reminded that music remains a universal language, that people in Ohio do know Nothing But Thieves, and its band members now know Ohio. Perhaps, the UK need not feel so far away.

It was apt that “Overcome” concluded the band’s performance. I have no better word to describe the sheer emotion of the evening than having myself been ‘overcome’, at first, with awe, and then with what I realised upon reflection to be gratitude. Gratitude to the band for having helped me bring a piece of home, home.