Black Box, Belfast by Aaron Drain
We aren’t really sure what to expect as we descend on Belfast’s Black Box to see East India Youth. With two excellent, yet wholly different records in as many years under his belt, Will Doyle could hark back to either tonight and it would be an engrossing experience. Perhaps it’s our initial uncertainty that helps us stake our claim to some prime real estate front and centre, expecting, or hoping, at least, that some of Doyle’s intense, introspective electro will barnstorm our position (it will, a bit). Unbeknownst to our party at this point in time though, the eerily quiet sine-waves that begin to roll from the sound-system signal that support act Ryan Vail and his deep, slowly pulsating modern classical electronica is about to kick things off.
Vail, fumbling and looking slightly awkward at first, when actually sat in front of his piano and gear, becomes anything but. His soulful, lapping compositions toss and sway you in equal measure, striking a balance that is tough but well managed. As we’re lulled one minute, we’re compelled the next as Vail flourishes his atmospheric progressions with glitchy, crackling waves of subtle percussion – these more upbeat examples from Vail are welcome respites from an otherwise sombre bag of tricks. Doyle, standing in the audience watches with delight and the feeling is a mutual one – Vail’s performing has grown considerably better with time.
It’s surprisingly vacant here tonight, though. For a draw as big as EIY, you’d think there’d be droves of all creatures great and hip elbowing for wiggle room in the Black Box. That’s not to take anything away from the performance, as we soon find out that the size of the crowd is fairly well suited to Doyle’s downbeat, melodic moments. Of course, there are tidbits of that good, ol’ ravenous electronica that pummel and exhaust us where we stand (opening with ‘The Juddering’, things get a little intense), but mostly they’re wrapped up in the decidedly neat pop sensibilities that reflect Doyle’s more flamboyant, Pet Shop Boys-eque leanings. Dapper, distinguished and making good use of his machines, Doyle drops ‘Looking For Someone’, ‘Heaven How Long’, ‘Carousel’ (which is a jaw-dropping rendition) and basically makes use of his varied back catalogue to bring us up and down like the yo-yos we seemingly are.
There isn’t much in the way of surprises, but some extended jamming out by Doyle (with bass guitar in hand) along with pockets of furious button smashing/head bobbing keep us on our toes and ‘Dripping Down’ and ‘Hinterland’ allow this cool-as-fuck Englishman to sweat bullets and wig out. It’s an extraordinary sight to behold, given the fact that each and everyone of us have enough room and the proximity to see it happen. Sadly, ‘Beaming White’ seems destined to fall flat, because it never really gets up and going – a few technical hitches leave us a little dismayed, but Doyle clearly more-so.
No matter and it’s fair to say that Doyle has been given a warm reception this evening. Rightly so – he’s nailed it: a solid and varied performance from an artist that knows what he’s doing, and that’s all we can really ask for, right?
The Button Factory, Dublin by Dave Hanratty
“Sssssssshhhhhhhhhh. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of people who paid money to go to a gig. Talking. It’s very off-putting.”
You can’t really blame William Doyle for offering such a withering critique of his audience, not after being met with regular, loud unwanted commentary and some truly wretched self-centred behaviour from a fair slice of those present.
It’s a strange one from the outset, this, as Doyle, clad in his usual impeccable suit and operating under his East India Youth guise, opens his Button Factory appointment with serrated noise scattering in the form of ‘The Juddering’ only to be immediately confronted by the most obnoxious #SQUAD imaginable. So there’s Doyle, a one-man-army setting the tone with a mix of quiet contemplation and a creeping sense of unease, while right in front of him parade a group of attention-seekers more concerned with lurching about like they’re at a Mark McCabe nightmare, stopping frequently to take flash-assisted selfies. One of them even SITS ON THE EDGE OF THE STAGE.
The surreal circus continues as the set takes shape; ‘Turn Away’, ‘Looking For Someone’, ‘Beaming White’ and ‘Dripping Down’ all performed valiantly by Doyle as mild technical issues and the sparse restless crowd vie for attention. A spirited ‘Don’t Look Backwards’ fades into further beer garden chatter and you’re reminded of an Electric Picnic crowd drowning out Sigur Rós a few years back. Cue Doyle and his aforementioned barbed take on proceedings, though he offers gratitude for those who aren’t determined to get in the way. “I love most of you”, he concludes.
‘Heaven, How Long’ follows, Doyle’s execution so ferocious and frenzied that you almost feel awkward. In fact you wouldn’t be terribly aggrieved if he chose to cut his losses at this juncture, so sharp is the exclamation point. It’s a blistering extended take, on par with his excellent turn at last year’s Forbidden Fruit where he arguably eclipsed every other act that weekend (yep, even Run The Jewels) and yet voices rise once more, decorum be damned.
Perhaps this is just The Way Things Are Now, but it’s bullshit. State’s own Jennifer Gannon observed a punter eating a fucking salad during Massive Attack just a few days prior. Elsewhere, the recently reformed Glassjaw have demanded that fans hand in their phones for their upcoming shows, leading to scorn and derision but they have a point, no? Etiquette at concerts is always something of a contentious issue. It’s a social event and there’s room for tactical conversation but the line has begun to blur so much that you wonder, much like Doyle, why some people bother to part with cash and pitch up.
On this night in question, you take in tracks like ‘Hearts That Never’ and ‘Hinterland’ and wonder if Doyle would be better off playing to a more hardcore gathering in a warehouse at five in the morning. He’d likely be met with more respect. There is the argument, certainly, that East India Youth straddles a particularly fine tightrope, that his vocal-led introspection clashes with his ability to construct pulsating gems (of these, ‘Entirety’ sadly only gets a cursory nod this evening) and perhaps he has opened himself up to harsh dividing lines but then you witness him stand at the side of the stage, bathed in spotlight, his gaze intent and indecipherable as the strains and emotion of ‘Carousel’ burn everything else away and you hope that he isn’t too appalled by what he sees.