It’s always pleasing when a firm State favourite has found success with so much ease, and with And So I Watch You From Afar, this is most certainly the case and deservedly so. Having embarked on an extensive and exhaustive tour that included U.S. and European appearances, the North Coast noiseniks have made their triumphant return to home-soil for two shows that are billed as their only Irish dates this year. Heading along to catch them in The Mandela Hall, we’re safe in the knowledge that this will be a special, if not emotional, experience for band and audience.
Before they step on stage, we’re exposed to Skymas; a sort-of The Prodigy-esque mixed bag of bass guitar, beats and pseudo-political histrionics that grate the ears. It’s a multi-sensory experience, don’t get us wrong. The eyes are also subject to a smorgasbord of bizarre stimuli – at once we’re seeing frontman Martin Corrigan’s sweeping arms and celebratory fist-bumps that bring to mind the stage tactics of a magician hyping the crowd, then a repulsive, mutating animation on stage-side screens that is both fascinating and terrifying. Unfortunately, aside from the macabre cartoons on offer, the best thing preceding ASIWYFA is when Clark’s ‘Tooth Moves’ is played as the band have their technicians set-up.
Still, we’re only here for one reason and that’s to bask in the complex math-rock arrangements of one of the most unique and hard-working bands ever to emerge from this island. Soon, we’re surrounded by a crowd that fills the venue to capacity and our ears ablaze with whoops and hollers, we’re sure it’s time for our main act. They emerge, confident captains of their industry to applause and launch whole-heartedly into ‘Run Home’, ensuring that each and every patron is awed and agog at the technicality they bring to their compositions. Of course, the evening quickly becomes an exercise of virtuosity and sweaty instrumental interplay and we couldn’t be happier. This is what it’s all about and the fact that it’s a homecoming really ramps up the enthusiasm on both sides of the stage divider.
Rory’s engagement with the audience is peppered with heartfelt sentiment, and he’s talking to us like we’re old friends who’ve been there from the beginning. It’s obvious many of us have and we’re treated to renditions of ‘7 Billion People All Alive At Once’, ‘A Beacon, A Compass, An Anchor’ and an especially commanding version of ‘These Secret Things I Know’ where Ewen (Rory’s younger sibling) joins the brigade of vocals to deliver an outstandingly hard-hitting performance. Heirs, is of course, the focus of tonight’s show and it’s no wonder considering ASIWYFA have just conquered half of the planet off of the back of it. Though, there’s little complaining from the full-house who are chanting along to all aspects of tonight’s show regardless of the sparse use of vocals.
As a unit, ASIWYFA are incredibly tight. Chris Wee’s drumming is furious in its perfection, the duelling guitars from Kennedy and Friers are thoughtfully reliant on octave switching to put their point across and the bass playing is strong with Jonathan Adger standing steadfast for the most part and letting the rhythmic pounding do the talking. It’s infectious too, seeing the guys take so much enjoyment from each others input to the performance and the energy remains high until the encore. Sliding off and on stage with swift grace, ASIWYFA return to melt our faces and close on ‘The Voiceless.’ Voiceless they aren’t, for Rory proceeds to thank everybody and anybody that has done them a solid over the past few years and it’s heartwarming to see the genuine gratitude and excitement brought about by the support from fans, families and friends of ASIWYFA.
State are exhausted, drained and extremely satisfied with ASIWYFA’s glorious return to their native stage, but can’t help think that surely this can’t be it for 2015. It would be a tragedy if it truly was.
And So I Watch You From Afar photographed for State by Kieran Frost