Situated as it is on the broad banks of Limerick’s Shannon, the Clarion Hotel is hardly the city’s most imposing sight, or even its tallest building, but it is the ideal backdrop for an evening gig in the true People’s Capital of Munster. The gig in question, a free concert paid for by a popular drinks company, is the first in a series of five to take place throughout the country’s shipyards and docklands over the next two months. Subsequent gigs in the Coors Light Peak series will take place on custom-built sites in Galway, Cork, Waterford and Dublin, featuring local and international acts such as Choice Music Prize winner Jape, nominee of the same R.S.A.G. (Rarely Seen Above Ground) and UK act the Charlatans.
The focus on a nippy Saturday evening in Limerick, however, was Sheffield act Reverend and the Makers and a supporting cast comprising local acts Walter Mitty & the Realists and DJ Brigadier JC, Galway synth-poppers Dark Room Notes, and one-man-band R.S.A.G. in the main support slot. A combination of work commitments and train schedules meant State was fashionably (and unfortunately) late, missing out on both the Realists (who, we understand, were brilliant) and all but the final few minutes of the always-superb Dark Room Notes; fortunately, Brigadier JC’s excellent old-school reggae selections between sets provided the perfect antidote to the violently chilly winds and the perfect segue into R.S.A.G.’s rhythm-heavy set.
Rarely Seen Above Ground (the performing alias of Kilkenny music teacher Jeremy Hickey) has long been acclaimed for his ambitious stage show. A drummer by trade, Hickey takes to the stage (almost) alone, flanked by a sole human audio programmer. Pre-recorded videos are projected to the left and right of the stage on large stacked shipping containers showing the multi-instrumentalist, in silhouette, performing bass and guitar parts in unison with the music. Anyone privy to his 2008 album Original Sampler will know what an intricate and meticulous composer he is, but on stage the songs take on a completely new life. Evidently, the Limerick crowd agreed, as the stragglers around the spacious venue steadily converged upon the stage throughout his eight-track set.
Transposed to a live setting, there’s a bluesy undercurrent that doesn’t come across as obviously on tape. The sober, detached vocalist of Original Sampler bristles with life on stage with yelps and howls peppering both familiar and less familiar works, particularly the Cramps-aping opener -Be It Right Or Wrong.’ Crowd favourites -Stick To Your Line’ and -Talk Back Crawl Back’ boast bass lines so simple and infectious you feel they have to be cribbed from some obscure -80s punk record; they’re not, of course, but the classic feel of the material is obvious. State’s Phil Udell hit on much the same sentiment with his Organic Sampler review, faulting the production but predicting that the album would ‘find its way into the hands of remixers all over the place.’ Hickey’s one major failing on the night was choosing not to end with a bang, as he had begun; the anti-climactic finish and slightly-too-long waiting time between acts meant that the crowd’s mood had dampened somewhat by the time Reverend and the Makers took to the stage.
Annoyingly, following the crisp sound of the previous set, the headliners were hampered with sound problems in the early stages. Vocals were basically inaudible for the first two songs, to the visible annoyance of singer Jon McClure, but it mattered little as the band opened with that one song that everybody likes, or, to give it its official title, -Silence Is Talking’. The rest of their songs are considerably less well-known however, and the crowd’s interest began to wane almost immediately. The Limerick public seemed a little turned off by the Reverend’s self-conscious, uniquely British bravado, and it was telling that the crowd that had peaked towards the end of R.S.A.G.’s support slot had already begun to break up the moment the last note of -Silence Is Talking’ sounded.
McClure was again visibly disappointed at the crowd’s indifference, but he didn’t allow it to put him off his game. As a frontman, McClure acts exactly the way you’d expect somebody who calls himself ‘Reverend’ to act: cocky and badly-dressed in a way only rock singers can pull off, he looks sort of like a cross between Liam Gallagher and a hobo. And his sermons are unlikely to go down in history alongside Martin Luther King’s; at one point, he invited the audience to join him in a chant of ‘don’t forget you can get off the conveyer,’ repeating his mantra ad nauseam until almost everyone had left. Shamelessly, there was a less-than-subtle ring of fellow Sheffield band (and mates of McClure’s) Arctic Monkeys’ ‘get off the bandwagon, put down the handbook’ chant to it, only without the meaning or intellectual quality.
To be fair to Reverend and the Makers, any gig-going crowd would be fatigued at the end of a 5-hour set, doubly so when most had come for a free night out rather than any one particular band. Regardless of any comparison with Arctic Monkeys (McClure and keyboardist Joe Moskow share a band, Mongrel, with ex-Monkeys bassist Andy Nicholson), the Makers actually boast the more diverse sound. Oasis is an obvious reference point, but they could probably be more closely aligned with the likes of the Happy Mondays and relentlessly positive (and underrated) Britpop mainstays Dodgy; even so, they manage to throw in elements of two-tone ska (-Professor Pickles’) and Republic Of Loose-like heavy funk (-No Wood Just Trees’). When they get the mix right, as they do with the latter and trumpet-infused anthem -Silence Is Talking,’ they sound ripe for the UK festival circuit, but they will need more time to win over fickle Irish audiences.
Coors Light Peak may not be the making of the Reverend & Co. in Limerick, and, given their enduring popularity in the UK, they will surely be back. However, alongside more underground acts like Dark Room Notes and R.S.A.G., they seemed to be the odd man out, and were ceremoniously upstaged by a much superior warm-up act. As for R.S.A.G., he’ll be hanging around for all five Peak gigs- what are the bets this won’t be the only scalp he’ll take before he’s finished?