Gritty, frenetic and infectiously charming, Inhaler has breathed fresh life into the indie rock scene since its formation in 2012.
Blending classic and modern rock ’n’ roll influences, with hints of Britpop and post-punk, the four-piece Irish band traverses a sonic landscape both timeless and contemporary. On April 3, Inhaler took its “Cuts and Bruises” tour to San Francisco, piercing The Regency Ballroom with a flurry of soaring guitar riffs and tight rhythms during an undeniably electric performance.
A deep red glow encompassed the venue and sizzled into an erratic display of blinding white lights at the show’s onset, signaling the start to an exhilarating evening. Palpable tension escalated amongst restless fans until the band — lead vocalist and guitarist Elijah Hewson, bassist Robert Keating, guitarist Josh Jenkinson and drummer Ryan McMahon — emerged onstage.
“1,2,3!” Hewsom exclaimed, exchanging a reassuring look with each of his bandmates before launching into opener “These Are The Days,” the lead single from their second studio album Cuts and Bruises. The frontman moved his entire body to the breezy beat, his easygoing swagger encouraging audiences to savor the track’s carefree message of living in the moment.
Guitar in hand, he transitioned into the group’s debut album It Won’t Always Be Like This with the punchy “My Honest Face,” followed by “Totally.” “If you’re not loosened up yet, this should help,” Hewson prefaced the latter, illuminated by intense purple and blue spotlights that captured the tune’s melancholy uncertainty.
Throughout the night, Inhaler certainly proved adept at using its captivating instrumentals to cast a potent spell on the ballroom. From the unhurried percussive line of “Just To Keep You Satisfied” to the shimmering guitar riffs of “Valentine,” the foursome effortlessly charmed the crowd into a laid-back reverie.
At other times, however, the band charged the concert with its trademark explosive zeal, igniting an atmosphere of fast-paced frenzy. Enhanced by the glare of volatile red lights, “When It Breaks” pulled audiences closer to the stage, as if each listener was connected to another with a taut wire. Later, the Inhaler revealed its raw, grittier side during the chorus of “Now You Got Me,” a track detailing a relationship stuck in frustrating stasis.
Inhaler has developed its chemistry and collective stage presence for over a decade — and its members’ live performance synergy has never been stronger. More often than not, Hewson, Keating and Jenkinson moved in rhythmic sync, their distinct musicalities playing off each other while still leaving each to shine through thrilling solos. In between tracks, the lead singer frequently turned to McMahon, the two feeding off of each other’s energy before erupting into the next number on the setlist.
Invigorated by Hewson’s magnetism and the dynamism of each bandmate, fans eagerly kept pace with the show’s momentum. “I f—king hate that bitch,” they yelled in reckless unison during a particularly spirited moment of “My King Will Be Kind.”
While Inhaler vigorously captures the spontaneity of the present and the unpredictability of the future, its members never forget to pay tribute to their past. “And I can see the city in the glass of your eye/ And when you take your shot, I’ll be there this time,” Hewson sang, referencing the group’s hometown in the nostalgia-ridden “Dublin in Ecstasy.”
“If you jump up and down, we might feel it in f–king Dublin,” the frontman later announced, again calling back to the band’s roots. “Which would be good, because our friends don’t believe we’re in a band,” he added with a playful grin before easing into “Who’s Your Money On? (Plastic House).”
By the time that the band moved on to jaunty concert highlight “Love Will Get You There,” listeners enthusiastically abided by Hewson’s advice. Submerged in pink-orange waves, the venue thrummed with movement — perhaps not felt by those across seas, but certainly by each member of the audience.
For its encore, Inhaler performed fan-favorites “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart” and “It Won’t Always Be Like This.” Invoking sentiments of heartbreak and impermanence, the band brought the evening to its end and a bittersweet sensation settled over the ballroom. As crowds descended onto the streets of San Francisco, they couldn’t help but gasp for more.