It was a cold night in Bristol and a small crowd was beginning to gather as the doors opened to welcome NEEDTOBREATHE’s loyal fans. The Thekla may not look or sound like a gig venue, but this old boat has picked up the moniker of the south-west’s “best small venue” in NME for the past two years.
After the obligatory trip to the bar – as a side note, £3.60 for a Thatchers Gold is relatively reasonable for a gig venue – we made our way to the front for the arrival of the only support act, Billy Jon. Sympathy has to go out to him and his fellow guitarist who was simply introduced as Ben. Their acoustic indie tracks, although tight and well-delivered, were not the kind of songs which incited the kind of excitement or energy levels required from a support act. On another night they may have gleaned the kind of reaction they were hoping for, but unfortunately the bar was much busier than the dance floor during their short set.
In the half an hour between the Billy Jon and the headline act the Thekla suddenly packed out and the reaction afforded to NEEDTOBREATHE shook the boat to its core and didn’t stop until the band left the stage for the final time. The set was a great mixture of their back catalogue, and from the opening notes of Devil’s Been Talkin’ to crowd favourite and set-closer Something Beautiful, frontman Bear Rinehart had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
The set was varied, yet whether they were jamming through singles like Keep Your Eyes Open or stripping their band back as during the exquisite Difference Maker, the crowd sang every word back to the South Carolina rockers. It is testament to how strong the band’s discography is that great tracks such as Slumber, White Fences and The Reckoning can be omitted from the set list and yet the 90 minutes in which they own the stage are still breathtakingly brilliant.
It is clear over the past thirteen years the band have tightened their live act remarkably, and are now one of the most polished rock acts on the circuit. If you like your rock gritty, heavy and with mosh pits a plenty then NEEDTOBREATHE may not be for you, but if you’re looking for an intimate gig which somehow becomes a musical spectacle then you’d do well to check them out.