When State arrives at St James’ Gate at three in the afternoon, an angry gentleman – clearly a Guinness or two worse for wear already – is being escorted into the back of a Garda-mobile after attempting to leg it through security. An elderly lady is begging the ticket office to see her hero Tom Jones with a Mrs. Doyle like ‘go on, go on, go on’ and suited folk with cameras and microphones are rushing around like they’ve discovered a new Olympic event. First stop: the red carpet.
Guinness know a photo opportunity when they see one, and have built a lengthy wall of barrels at the entrance to Hop Store 13, before escorting a chain of celebrities past the waiting cameras. A certain Mr. Brian Cowen mumbled his way through the crowd, Mary Harney, secretary of trade and industry whispered to us cheekily that she doesn’t actually like the black stuff (but she wouldn’t be adverse to buying us one), and Dizzee Rascal wondered past in a bling-covered blaze of glory without much to say for himself. David Gray, on the other hand, shows his class, taking a full 45 minutes to talk to all present. State are briefly distracted from our musical mission by the towering figure of striking Sudanese model Alec White, while Razorlight look slightly peeved when we throw in a sneaky question about their feelings on the music press (‘everyone here seems okay’). John McClure (of Reverend and the Makers) admits to being a few pints down already, and the Kooks are quick to compare Dublin to their hometown Brighton (‘they both have a university’).
Guinness may be faced with the (hardly titanic) task of organizing a piss up in a brewery, but this really is an immaculate venue, one they should seriously contemplate using again. You have to walk past three free bars to get to the entrance tunnel, from where the mammoth screen dominates your eye line, while a set of temporary seats stretch up behind you. Ronan Keating is presiding over it all, strutting about the boards and leading the audience in a roar of -to Arthur’ as 17.59 comes round. Waiters drift around the packed crowd, grabbing finished pint glasses from the masses, while another row plant themselves outside with a line of on-the-run munchies. Everyone seems more than a tad tanked up, having been enjoying the special (free) -Guinness 250′ brew for several hours, and there’s a sense that this is the place to be.
Tom Jones starts us off, wowing the abundant suited business people and sporadic swaying pensioners in the crowd with a perfectly set up performance that shows his years of careful on-stage refinement. -It’s Not Unusual’ is swiftly followed by -Mama Told Me Not To Come’ (not, sadly, incorporating the Stereophonics), -Delilah’ and a smiling, vibrant version of -Sex Bomb’. State spot Gordon D’Arcy and Miss Guinness Jr. enjoying the vibe. While utterly predictable, Jones’ performance is playful and – despite his -pride of Wales’ status – strangely apt.
Next up is Estelle, who smiles and grooves her way through a set that never really takes off. She can certainly sing, though the sound set up buries her voice far too deep in the mix, and the crowd’s soon thinning out for a top up and a bite to eat. Estelle – through a combination of flirtatious begging and substantial waits – does manage to get the entire seated section on their feet, though the majority of the audience is utterly indifferent. Until, that is, Estelle whips out the chart smash. Closing track -American Boy’ is accompanied by a shimmering star and stripes on the big screen, and gets a minor sing along going down the front, much to the bubbly star’s relief.
Dizzee Rascal‘s -surprise appearance’ is perhaps the worst kept secret in St. James’; those who hadn’t cottoned on yet are given an extremely unsubtle clue when his name’s flashed across the back of the stage in humongous red lights before Estelle’s performance, and then placed prominently on Mr. Keating’s very visible teleprompter. He’s a welcome addition, though, strutting the stage front and – to great pleasure amongst the female half of the audience – depositing his shirt in the wings only one track in. -Bonkers’, -Holiday’ and -Dance Wiv Me’ come and go, each a smidgen less crisp than on disk but very listenable nonetheless, while Dizzee checks out the talent down the front and struts about, designer jeans slipping way past his waist.
Kasabian are a live act for all occasions, and climb on stage with all the passion the occasion warrants. It soon becomes clear that the crowd is divided: while there are several hundred impassioned punters leaping around like idiots down the front, plenty more are stood back, watching calmly from a distance and slurping their fifth, sixth and seventh pints. -Shoot the Runner’ goes down a storm, as does -Fire’, which sees the band strut and hovers over the audience, guitar held high. ‘It’s been odd, but thanks’ Tom quips before blasting out early single ‘LSF (Lost Souls Forever)’ as a closer, and inducing a small-scale riot down the front. If the Hop Store 13 gig has one downfall, it’s arguably the invite/ competition-only ticket format, which sees plenty of punters there for the beer and the experience rather than the music on offer. On this occasion, you could even argue that’s not such a bad thing; it just leads some top class live acts performing to a majority who don’t really appreciate it. Nothing’s going to blight a night like this, though.
Most of the crowd seems to have after-party tickets too, and State follows the procession across the road, up the oversized glass pint (which, rumor has it, represents the quantity of Guinness drunk in around the world on an average day, or the amount drunk in Dublin tonight), and into a vivacious night where the black stuff flows freely and celebrities abound. Arthur, whose signature still graces the bottom of this particular glass, would be proud.