Over a two or three-day period in 2003, I found myself unable to rise from my bed. I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression the previous winter but it’s always been such an intangible ‘comes and goes’ malady that I often feel guilty ever placing the ‘D’ word upon myself. Still, over a decade ago, I felt a total lack of energy and fell into a formless blur of days and nights that honestly flirted with euphoric. It sounds stupid but there’s something to be said for lurching out of the dark and having no idea what time or day it is only to throw back a pint of water and feel immediately and oddly serene. And then back to bed.
A dear friend who, thanks to his relocation on the other side of the world, I don’t get to see anywhere near as often as I wish, made me a few mix CDs during this time. Yep, compact discs. Halcyon days. The truth is that they provided a more useful education than the school I was hiding from and the college I would eventually find the courage to face. I wouldn’t be writing this, or anything before or after with confidence, without them. Music became a shield and helped forge an identity. Now, at this point, you’d be forgiven for questioning if you clicked the wrong thing but I assure you that you’re in the right place, that Brand New’s appointment with Dublin actually factors in. Honest.
Two of those mixes stand out, in particular. The opening tracks, specifically. ‘Sleeping In’ by The Postal Service kicked one off, which was my friend – his name is Adam, by the way – poking knowing fun at my penchant for skipping multiple classes in favour of clinging to my bed long past any reasonable hour. The other was Brand New’s ‘Mix Tape’, a fairly on-the-nose selection for track one but it marked the first time I heard Jesse Lacey’s naked angst. I was hooked. ‘Okay, I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don’t’ also popped up on one or the other and that was all my addled brain needed. Well, not quite all. In a world where Spotify and YouTube didn’t exist, Adam introduced me to M83, OMD, LCD Soundsystem and plenty of others that didn’t lead with three sharp characters. Brand New stood out, though, and by the time I wrapped my ears around ‘Play Crack The Sky’, some light crept in.
So I find myself in Vicar Street, catching Jesse Lacey’s gang for the first time since they conquered Tripod in 2007 and I’m really not sure what to expect. There’s no new album – yet – just a single released without ceremony and no real reason for them to be here. Yet here they stand, the stage bedecked with flower bouquets and that out-of-the-blue stab ‘Mene’ as their standard-bearer. It’s a killer start; its chorus raised a hundred feet high by strobe lights and engaged lovers screaming the words back like they grew up on it.
There’s a lot of emotion here this evening, most of it – from my vicinity at least – emanating from the males in attendance. Honestly, it comes to feel like a strange group therapy session at times, one peppered with lighters held aloft (seriously), regular crowd surfers and the hollering of lyrics that surely a lot of us are too old to roar with a straight face. Fair enough, for this country could use some healthy sensitive expression from its gentlemen. Lacey thrives on it, still making lines like “Cause I’ve seen more spine in jellyfish” and “Oh, my tongue’s the only muscle on my body that works harder than my heart” work as he moves forward in life. ‘Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don’t’ and ‘Mix Tape’ hit a most personal one-two and suddenly I’m that young adult again, powered by the strength and wisdom provided by a friend, even if he didn’t know it. Before and after, the likes of ‘Gasoline’, ‘Millstone’, ‘Seventy Times 7’ and ‘At The Bottom’ stir and pierce accordingly.
A shame, then, that ’Untitled 3’ seriously crushes momentum, picking up following a fairly ponderous ‘You Stole’ and smothering the building like an especially dramatic Friday Night Lights montage found its way in. In truth, the night doesn’t quite recover as you want it to. A spirited ‘Luca’ feeds into ‘You Won’t Know’ which makes for a terrific save and a heart-stopping finish, only there’s more to come, with ‘Degausser’, an oddly tame ‘Jesus’ and a blistering ‘Sowing Season’ lowering the curtain. All are delivered with conviction, but there’s a curious atmosphere amid the worship, the sense that something got in the way and left a bruise. It could be me, hit with pangs of nostalgia and poignancy midway through and unable to fully focus on what followed. There’s no ‘Play Crack The Sky’ but that’s alright – for at least 10 minutes, a most vivid revision took hold. Between that and a glorious peak, awkward stumble and game recovery? Yeah, you’d take that.
Brand New photographed for State by Mark McGuinness