Gaze at your Doc Martens’ and prepare to debate the merits of Twin Peaks and Loveless, because it’s 1991 again, folks. With the release of their revelatory Attack on Memory last year, tonight’s headliners made a decisive break with their earlier work, trading in woozy power pop for fierce, scuzzy, angst-riddled post-punk that recalled the glory days of The Year Punk Broke. And they are not alone in that. The homebred support line-up (whose organiser is tonight’s unsung hero) is a master class in Mascis and Westerberg worship.
First up are Dublin up-and-comers Bouts, who kick off ceremonies with their repertoire of affable indie rock. With songs like ‘We Tried’, they showcase a reliable formula of deft, distorted twin guitar work, loud-quiet-loud structures and some underdog enthusiasm. With a convincing live show and an upcoming album, they’re a group definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Tuam three-piece So Cow offer up a strong set of witty, exuberant tunes like ‘Casablanca’ and ‘I Hardly Know You’, good enough to command a devout three-man mosh pit. Frontman Brian Kelly has many a hilarious exchange with the crowd, including a convincing sales-pitch for a malfunctioning effects pedal. The highlight is a new song chronicling the small, sad details of a night spent by Rory McIlroy and Roger Federer in a hotel, which deserves instant canonisation in the small but vital category of Irish alternative rock songs with spoken word elements (alongside A House’s ‘Endless Art’ and Whipping Boy’s ‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’, of course).
Cloud Nothings unfortunately face a crowd far sparser than they deserve, but happily give it their all. When bandleader Dylan Baldi appears to be having the time of his life singing cynical, sardonic songs like ‘Wasted Days’ and ‘No Future No Past’, it’s a solid indication that he’s wholly content with his decision to overhaul the band’s sound. The fact that the short, no-encore set is almost exclusively a full performance of Attack on Memory that disregards their previous work backs this up.
Kicking off with a cathartic sing-along to the would-be millennial anthem ‘Stay Useless’, they frontload the show with some strong material like ‘Our Plans’ and the earth-scorching instrumental ‘Separation’. Despite what appears to be a near collapse of a drum riser midway through the set, and an unplanned interval to move the entire kit to central stage (which mercifully serves as State‘s bathroom break), they keep the attendees fixated. The crowd reaction may be equal parts shameless head-banging and apathetic hipster arm-folding, but there’s not a soul present who doesn’t seem absorbed in the show.
Returning with the blistering sludge of ‘No Sentiment’, it’s not long before they wrap up on the extended coda of ‘Wasted Days’ and head off smiling into the night. The all too brief set may leave an appetite for more, but also makes a strong case for one of the few high-profile indie groups not afraid to revel in their rough edges, and some perfect company in two inspiring local acts. More power to them.