Since launching in 2009, Arthur’s Day has done a great job of establishing itself on the Irish musical calendar, with affordable performances from well-known bands – especially those in intimate venues – difficult to turn down for the money-conscious music lover. For all its obvious merits – price, surprise factor at the pub gigs, exposure for local artists and affordable drinks to name just a few – there are still things that don’t sit quite right. Heavily shortened sets, line ups that are perhaps a touch too eclectic to really meld and the idea that you’re being asked to ‘celebrate’ what’s essentially a brand give the night an odd vibe: wedged somewhere between a genuine celebration, an excuse for a piss up and a top-end musical event.
Hopstore 13 tonight is the perfect example: there can’t be many people in the building who actually want to see more than perhaps half the acts here, and they’re being shuffled across the stage in such a ‘blink and you miss it’ way – perhaps five songs each – that each act is just about getting a rhythm going when the acts wonder off again. By the time State arrives we’ve already missed the ‘to Arthur’ clink and Paolo Nutini, and Arthur’s Day competition winners Leaders of Men are on stage. The Tallaght act has a tightly-wound, edgy-rock vibe that plays off the vocal intensity of impressive front man Brian Ashe. While they probably still lack the depth of material to perform at this level regularly, the lads don’t look out of place on a warehouse-scale stage and are certainly more than a match for some of what’s to follow. Watch this space.
Urban vocalist Yasmin seems to be the cue for large parts of the crowd to head for the bar. She’s vocally impressive but simply doesn’t have the tracks to make any real impact. There’s no little vocal talent when the show’s measured against today’s brand of autotuned chart R&B, but with Yasmin’s music having made only a minimal impact even in her native UK to date, having a good voice isn’t quite enough, and her attempts to whip up the crowd are greeted with really quite marked indifference. Unfair, perhaps, but at an event like today’s, recognisability counts for a lot.
The same indifference certainly can’t be applied to last-minute ‘secret’ guests The Saturdays. Clad in revealing near-lingerie and pulling out routine after swirling routine down the front, they have more than enough fans hanging off every note to suggest that being announced extremely late hasn’t stopped a few grabbing tickets outside. We’re told The Saturdays are impressive with a backing band, but tonight there are just the five of them, and we’re not entirely convinced most of them can actually sing. Given that singing is the only skill they actually require to be in the group – body image and choreography aside – it’s not exactly a performance of overwhelming quality. Still, the fans are more than happy, and – dodgy vocals aside – it would be naïve of us to have expected anything else. ‘Notorious’ and ‘Higher’ are the highlights, enticing the biggest sing-a-longs of the night.
Which leaves headliners Stereophonics – a largely forgotten force over the past few years – to bring things home. It’s easy to forget that the Welsh band were once substantial enough to headline Glastonbury. Tonight they seem determined to remind us all of those heady days, whipping out old classics like ‘1000 Trees’, ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’, ‘Just Looking’ and ‘The Bartender and The Thief’, before ‘Dakota’ offers a rock-out high point. As a band often derided as ‘dad rock’, Stereophonics come into their own live, with Jones playing the Casablancas-esque figure at the front: all ego, but vocally sublime. Things soon descend into one boisterous, manic sing-a-long, an intense show that’s a comfortable highlight of the night.
For the major venues, Arthur’s Day would do well to establish more of a theme. Sticking together artists of a similar ilk in one venue is basic logic when it comes to crowd pleasing, and comes at no extra expense. Arguably, the best nights are still to be had by heading for one of the pubs and soaking up the excitement, especially if you get lucky. As far as the actual gigs go, they’re all a bit half baked, if only because of the length, a little like one of those giant televised fundraisers in which singers simply reel through a handful of hits and then duck backstage again. You’re paying a fraction of the price, but if you’re only heading down for one or two bands, you’re getting half the show, too. While we’re all for eclectic line ups, this often seems a touch too disparate; like mixing top-end whiskey with bargain bucket beer. It’s great to see so many big names descending on Dublin for the night, but for all the hype, we’re still not entirely convinced that this concept really works for the music fan.
Photos by Kieran Frost.