Spread over a trio of three neighbouring venues, the Belfast Music Week was billed as an opportunity for the city’s (and beyond) homegrown talent to hold their own against the international names and give those visitors in attendance a chance to get a taste of the musical character of Northern Ireland in 2012.
First up is the man described by Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody as “Northern Ireland’s Bruce Springsteen ” – David C. Clements. High praise indeed – and which initially seems accurate as Clements and his band jangle through a set of country-rock melodies and emotional lyrics, (“I’ve watched people piss their love away time and time again” on the swelling ‘Hurricane’) but which upon reflection is a little wide of the mark; Clements’ brand of alt.folk is all too reminiscent of no-thrills bearded Seattleites Fleet Foxes rather than the Boss.
Singer-songwriter Tom McShane and his band set up in an extremely cramped Katy Daly’s to perform tracks from his recently released debut album The Ural Winter. McShane’s retro style of ’50s Americana suits the intimate setting and vice versa; it’s easy to imagine the understated charm of songs like ‘Fighter’ going down well in a distant Speakeasy, and McShane’s subtle storytelling and stage presence are all too capable of taking you there. The buzz around the Dundrum native may have died down somewhat since his album release, but he surely stands as one of the country’s brighter stars right now.
Alt rockers More Than Conquerors make no secret of their influences; their riff-heavy rock bringing to mind a Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys as much as local contemporaries such as Fighting With Wire. A band with such well known inspiration have to excel on the live stage and tonight they do – numbers like ‘Bear Knuckle Fight’ and ‘Oh My Son!’ tonight have a scuzzier edge to them, removing some of the indie gloss that exists on their EPs and replacing it with an intensity that every young band should have.
Ex And So I Watch You From Afar frontman Tony Wright – performing under his VerseChorusVerse moniker – cuts a solitary figure as he launches into a set of Dylan inspired folk and blues numbers. Wright still has the vigour with which he played as part of the ASIWYFA setup, but unfortunately his songs do not, and whether it’s as a result of the high-tempo acts that have preceded him or a jittery crowd, tonight’s performance is not a great snapshot of Wright’s new direction.
The considerable crowd that have amassed in the Limelight 2 to watch Belfast-based hard rockers LaFaro (pictured) have, no doubt, seen it all before. Most gig goers in the city are well-versed in the back catalogue of Jonny Black and co., yet there is something about the nature of tonight’s performance that keeps things from going stale. It is more than likely the strict 20 minute slot that all acts have to adhere to, but it’s aided by a set that includes energetic, tight renditions of old favourites (‘Tupenny Nudger’ *still* sounds great) and raucous cuts from their latest album. On a night full of upcoming bands and artists, LaFaro are a pleasantly familiar reference point.
Derry’s Ryan Vail has been fast making a name for himself, with a string of superb EP releases and notable live performances under his belt. Tonight offers a chance for the uninitiated to take in Vail’s brand of New-Order inspired electronica. Whilst the beginning of his set captures the crowd’s imagination and shows why his stock has been on the rise recently, his set tends to drift away from what makes his material so gripping on record. Gone are the xx inspired guitar lines and other nuanced instrumentation; live, Vail’s set is over-reliant on electronic bleeps and bloops, and steers away from what makes his music so hypnotic in the first place. Non-existent vocals also don’t help a set that is ultimately disappointing.
Local lads A Plastic Rose are on stage in the Limelight 2, and, along with LaFaro, are surely one of the more apparent imposters on this so-called ‘showcase’. Local punters are no strangers to APR, a band who have been doing the rounds on the live circuit for years. But whilst LaFaro’s songs have become local classics due to their album releases, APR seem to exist on the live circuit indefinitely. They have talent; there are some good vocal lines in there and technically their brand of indie rock is very sound but yet again they fail to leave a lasting impression.
Orchestral rock collective Ram’s Pocket Radio are the final act tonight, as Peter McCauley brings his piano-heavy ballads to the Limelight 1. His tracks are big on atmosphere but lacking in originality, and regrettably this performance proves the comparisons to Keane to be all too accurate. Sat alongside a fairly eclectic bill of genres and styles, his set tonight needed to be exciting, or at least in some way different to his recorded material. Sadly it wasn’t the case for a showcase that also seemed to trail off when it promised so much.