Happy Arthur’s Day – perhaps the greatest Irish marketing campaign of all time by the multinational owners of Guinness. Thousands of online campaigners have even signed a petition to turn September 24 into a national holiday, a Paddy’s Day II. Cynicism aside, Guinness have lined up an impressive range of acts for intimate gigs around the capital’s pubs and clubs, and Tripod is no exception. Like the rest, the Harcourt Street venue has been turned into a TV set for the evening, so Dublin can link up with simultaneous gigs in Lagos, Kuala Lumpar and New York for the toast at 17.59. The host MC makes invites the crowd to toast for the camera – ‘and make sure it looks like this is the biggest party in the world’. Glasses are raised, Arthur’s name reverberates around Tripod, and after a few attempts it’s deemed worthy for broadcast. Tonight’s host is model and TV presenter Michelle de Swarte, who poses with a perfectly poured pint of stout, while her new male fans in the front row engage in some good-natured hormonally-charged heckling. The MC reads out the list of acts performing tonight, and there’s a huge roar when Kelly Rowland’s name comes over the PA – it seems like the US starlet was a late addition t the bill.
Jamie Cullum, who still looks like he’d need a fake ID to get served a pint of plain, opens up proceedings by playing snatches of the -Imperial March’ from Star Wars, before kicking things off with a bluesy cover of Rihanna’s -Please Don’t Stop the Music’. He then gets the clichÃ©-generator out for new number -I’m All Over It’, a Queen-esque piano stomper with lines like ‘I cursed and I cried and I said I would change but I lied’, before tossing aside his suit jacket to the swoons of the ladies in the front row. Cullum is a gifted pianist all right, never missing a note while battering the keys. But his voice is so polished and clinical, so X Factor, we half expect one of the TV cameras in Tripod to very slowly zoom in to a close-up of a single tear dripping off Cheryl Cole’s eyelid. You can’t really fault his enthusiasm though, there’s plenty of pleasant banter and he even leaps off the piano as the band close with a jazzy version of Jimi Hendrix’s -The Wind Cried Mary’. He was teetering for a good minute though, as if he was about to jump off a skyscraper. Sort it out Jamie – 60-year-old Bruce Springsteen pulls off that piano-jump stunt 10 times a night.
If there was any justice, Soul II Soul would be higher up the bill, but the London soundsystem collective say they’re proud to be invited along for the toast. Caron Wheeler’s soulful voice is still perfect, while the two girls on electric violins add some atmospheric touches to Jazzie B’s dubbed-out beats. Jazzie has settled nicely into the role of soundsystem elder statesman, and even though he keeps telling us, ‘we’re gonna take it back to 1990’, it’s hard to believe dance anthems like -Keep on Moving’ and -Back To Life’ are 20 years old. It’s positive vibes all round as Jazzie takes the mic for -Feeling Free’, and when they finish with -Get a Life’, as Wheeler sings ‘elevate your mind’, Soul II Soul already have. It’s all too short of course – promoters should get them back on the Irish festival circuit next year.
After Soul II Soul’s positive raps and reminiscing, Mongrel are here to tell us what’s wrong with the big bad world. ‘Mongrel is a celebration of everything that is good about Britain at the same time as pointing out its flaws,’ according to their own blurb. The UK indie-hip-hop crossover act is a super(ish) group featuring members of Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, Reverend and the Makers, Lowkey and whatever other MCs they can nab. Tonight they’ve brought along London female rapper Tor Cesay and two local Dublin MCs for the ‘soundclash’, a word Reverends singer Jon McClure says about 20 times in their short set.
They definitely look the part and get the crowd going, especially when the Dublin MCs do the pogo thing while telling the ‘people on the left and right to say ho-oh’. McClure, wearing a builder’s donkey jacket with the collar turned up, has the indie wide-boy Liam Gallagher/Ian Brown swagger down to a t, and for some reason keeps cocking an imaginary pistol and pointing it at the crowd. The cringey soapbox politics of their debut album Better Than Heavy is a lot better live, a raspy ‘soundclash’ of grimey squelches and clipped indie riffs. ‘Barcode’ and ‘Hit From the Morning Sun’ even get a minor moshpit going for a few seconds, and Mongrel win the crowd over. They’re good, if a little self-important – McClure said recently they were ‘kind of like Public Enemy or something’, and wants to record their second album in Venezuela and work with Hugo Chavez. Sure why not rope in Castro on decks as well.
‘It’s four or five years since I was here – the energy is always the best’ gushes Kelly Rowland – a true superstar in the eyes of this crowd – and only one degree of separation away from a certain Beyonce, the high priestess of R&B herself. She’s genuinely taken aback at the adoration as fans roar her name, a touching bout of humility from Ms Kelly. The former Destiny’s Child star’s dishes out slick pop candy like -Love, Need & Want You’ while all the (single) ladies holler out the words karaoke style. It’s just Kelly, two dancers and a blinged-up hip-hop dude on decks, a more pared-down affair than she’d be used to. She drops the hit -Daylight’, before the DJ ushers in the piano intro to her David Guetta collaboration -When Love Takes Over’, and with a whoosh we’re transported into an Ibiza Uncovered montage on the crest of a cheesy synth wave.
Without a big dumb summer smash to coast along on, Roots Manuva has a tough job following Kelly. It also doesn’t help when the host MC’s mic cuts out as he comes on stage, so the crowd miss out on his introduction. He walks on during the mass exodus to the bar, and one girl beside State asks her pal: ‘Is that Dizzee Rascal?’ Things aren’t looking up for the Banana Klan. It’s a pity – Manuva MC has dressed for the occasion, wearing a white shirt, bow tie and a skull cap. He trades rhymes with legendary reggae toaster Ricky Ranking on a reworked version of 2001’s -Bashment Boogie’ from the Run Come Save Me album, before a rare live outing of -Colossal Insight’. It’s all good from one the UK’s most gifted rappers – his trademark stoned flow is bang on, his goofy dancing is in check and Ranking is hitting all the high notes in -Again and Again’. This is a singalong crowd though and he just doesn’t have the hits. He’s saved by the faithful at the front pulling all sorts of shapes, especially during the crazy dancehall workout -Butuff Nuff’. He leaves without playing his biggest song -Witness (1 Hope)’, which is a bit of an oversight. Still, he was having the banter and supping the Black Stuff. He even posted a bleary-eyed update on his website the morning after: ‘Here’s to 250 more years of Guinness… phew… Dublin is up for the crack…’
More karaoke shenanigans as local heroes Republic of Loose take to the stage, with the ramshackle gang looking more and more like the Irish Blockheads as time goes by. Singer Mick Pyro doesn’t exactly have Ian Dury’s roguish charm, but he wins the award for outfit of the night – he’s wearing a miniature dress coat that looks like it’s made out of clumps of grass, or maybe the Guinness is taking over. Pyro’s pretending-to-be-pissed or plain pissed schtick is getting a bit tired, but at least the Loose have the decency to play songs people can sing along to. They even have a hit called -You Know it’. They kick off with -Aaagh!’, their raucous call to arms with its overblown heavy metal breakdown and dirty funk bass. The one-two pop punch of -Comeback Girl’ and -You Know It’ does the business as usual – two perfect soul numbers that will always be aces up their sleeve. Still, you get the impression they’ve been treading water with these two songs for a few years now.
With the crowd getting increasingly tired and emotional, it’s up to electro pop pin-up Calvin Harris to spike Arthur’s Day with a dose of glowstick-waving pseudo rave. He nails the crowd straight away with his insanely catchy -Acceptable in the 80s’. He has a full band in tow, playing live keys, guitars and drums, while he’s flailing about twiddling knobs, singing and getting very sweaty. -Ready for the Weekend”s nursery rhyme piano and croony chorus is beefed up for the live show, while -The Girls’ has all the girls chanting along. It’s funny, we’d never realised the song’s casual misogyny before. ‘I like them black girls/ I like them white girls/ I like them Asian girls/ I like them mixed-race girls’ could be straight from the filthy mouth of NWA’s Eazy E, but it’s not really offensive, just a bit stupid. The trancey keyboard stabs of -I’m Not Alone’ might reek of Euro dance cheese like Cascada, but it’s the perfect floor-filler. It’s the biggest song of the night and has everyone in Tripod pogoing, from the dancefloor to the balcony. Hands are in the air, Guinness is spilled, and it’s a rousing finale. There’ll be a huge clean-up, there’ll be some hangovers in work the day after, and the cloud of Guinness farts could lead to toxic smog over the capital, but Arthur’s Day has been a big hit. Let’s sign that petition.