By Lilli Ferry Ellis | 26 April 2023
Ireland is having a moment. Dublin’s own Inhaler recently wrapped a wildly popular American tour, only to announce they’ll be opening for Pearl Jam and Arctic Monkeys later this year. Paul Mescal is the internet’s boyfriend, fresh off an awards show season chock-full of perfect fashion. And Ireland’s sweetheart, Niall Horan, is a coach on The Voice while promoting his third studio album set to be released in June.
Enter: The Academic. With guitar lines reminiscent of The Strokes and lyrics that capture the beauty and angst of young adulthood, Craig Fitzgerald (lead vocals), Dean Gavin (drums), and brothers Matt (guitar) and Stephen (bass) Murtagh are back to playing shows in America for the first time since 2017. Despite a belated start to the tour due to visa issues, they are bringing the humor, stage presence, and rockstar energy of seasoned professionals.
On April 18, it would be impossible to guess that the band tearing up the 7th Street Entry stage in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was incredibly jet-lagged—if Fitzgerald didn’t keep mentioning it. Hot off of performing for President Joe Biden in Dublin days before, the Irishmen and their 19-song setlist made 7th Street the place to be on a Tuesday night.
When the lights dimmed and fans cheering ensued, anticipation built as the pulsing guitar riff of “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” filled the room, accompanied by Gavin’s skillful riding of the hi-hat. As Fitzgerald joined to sing the first verse, accompanied by the Murtaghs on harmonies, the band settled into a comfortable groove before the anthemic chorus hit: “I say don’t let me go / And you say why can’t we be friends.”
The whole room shouted along with them, swaying side to side. Even though I hadn’t heard of The Academic a few weeks earlier, I was already hooked.
Unlike other bands that play a smaller venue than they’re used to, The Academic aren’t aloof and disconnected...
After a foray to “Anything Could Happen,” a single released in 2020, the band transitioned to a trifecta of absolute bops from their latest studio album, Sitting Pretty: “Let Go of My Heart,” “Pushing Up Daisies,” and “This Is Your Life.” On the album, these tracks take on more of an electronic sound, between the use of synth and different vocal effects. But live, the driving guitars and thunderous drum fills turned these songs into something distinct yet familiar.
Halfway through the set, the band shifted into ballad-mode with the moody, confused, “Buying Smokes.” The emotional confusion expressed in the lyrics translated well to the live show, and it was obvious that fans resonated deeply with this metaphor for life in early adulthood. Despite Matt Murtagh trading his electric guitar to step to the keyboard at the beginning of the song, just like on the album, the whole band descended into organized musical chaos to finish the song, gathering at the back of the stage near the drum kit for an impressive trash can ending.
“Buying Smokes” felt like it could have been the end, but The Academic were just getting started.
As the band transitioned into the angsty and emotionally honest “Acting My Age,” Fitzgerald shed his guitar and before the chorus hit, stepped off the stage to walk through the crowd while he sang, “I know I’ve done some silly things / I’ve made a few mistakes on the way.” He shared the song with the fans on the floor in an even more intimate way than before: offering handshakes, hi-fives, and fist bumps; even pausing to take a video with a fan while he sang. Other fans whipped out their phones, taking selfies with him as he walked back to the stage.
This was just one of many opportunities Fitzgerald took throughout the night to engage with The Academic fans. He accepted gifts from the front row, like a bouquet and a journal—remarking that it would be “for [his] private, deep thoughts” after offering his thanks.
There were lots of jokes and stories shared, too. After reminiscing about their last time in Minneapolis, playing the First Avenue main room while opening for Judah and the Lion, they digressed to reflect on being back on the road in the States and shared their breakfast orders from Denny’s with us. (Variations on the Grand Slam for everyone, except Fitzgerald, who enjoyed a veggie omelet.)
The honesty was disarming, but it made me feel like an old friend. Unlike other bands that play a smaller venue than they’re used to, The Academic aren’t aloof and disconnected; they’re right there, in the room, ready to tell you about their day and take you gently by the hand from one song to the next.
As the lead vocalist, Craig Fitzgerald leads this charge—and he just might be the next great rock front-man. Not only does his vocal range carry the bass-y lows and energetic falsetto with stamina, he steers an audience like a master sommelier takes a novice through a wine list, introducing each song as a courtesy for the new fans.
But don’t think that Fitzgerald is taking himself too seriously. During nearly every song, he showed off his dancing prowess with a casual back-and-forth bop, reminiscent of a dad at a barbeque.
Craig Fitzgerald might be a rockstar, but he’s not too cool for school.
After a brief break for an encore, The Academic returned for three more songs: “Right Where You Left Me,” “Girlfriends,” and their 2018 hit “Bear Claws.” But before playing their final song, Fitzgerald took to the mic to share a few more words with the crowd. He thanked everyone for joining them for the show, expressed the band’s gratitude for the opener and tour staff, and praised the venue staff for being the best in the business before leading the audience in a round of applause for them. It was an incredibly sweet gesture, and not something I had seen at a show before.
While Craig Fitzgerald shines as the frontman, the Murtaghs and Gavin are incredibly impressive musicians who bring these modern rock anthems to life. It’s been days since the show and I still can’t stop thinking about Stephen Murtagh’s bass line in the hopeful and innocent “Step My Way.”
From the excellent musicianship to the meaningful engagement with their fans, The Academic set a new bar for live shows. You can stream Sitting Pretty now—and make sure you catch them on tour in the U.S. through May 14, 2023.