2006 was a different country when it came to Irish music. Noteworthy albums came from Cathy Davey, The Frames, Adrian Crowley, Dry County, Director, Snow Patrol, Humanzi and Royseven. Turn and JJ72 split up. And Fight Like Apes were born. Ten years later and it’s become the norm for homegrown bands who step outside of the indie norm to garner radio play and a large enough audience to fill venues like the Olympia and sit comfortably at the business end of festivals bills. It might be a bit much to suggest that Fight Like Apes were the sole reason, but they certainly played their part.
Yet now the end is here, and we’re facing their final curtain. The signs were probably all there, with the band hardly hyperactive (some impressive festival slots aside) in the eighteen months since the release of their third record. For a group who had enjoyed such a high profile to throw their hands up and admit that making music just isn’t financially viable was a bold and fairly depressing move, although there is also a sense that their many achievements are unlikely to be bettered while operating on a completely independent level. A decade since they took their first steps on this very stage, they’ve wrapped it up at a point where people still care enough to sell out this final show in a few hours. They probably could have gone somewhere bigger but, as Mary-Kate points out, it wouldn’t have been nearly as special.
And special it certainly is. Unlike so many who left us this year, being able to say goodbye in person obviously means a lot. Not that they overdo the schmaltz, instead opting for the default approach that has stood them so well over the years. There’s a chaotic beauty to it all, enhanced by the continuing malfunction of what appears to be their original gear and led by what is still one the best onstage pairings you’ll ever see. At the heart of it, however, is what always made them so good – the songs. The new ones are testament to the fact that they are leaving us on an undoubted high (and, yes, Fight Like Apes is a better record than I gave it credit for), while the likes of ‘Jake Summers’, ‘Lend Me Your Face’, ‘I’m Beginning To Think You Prefer Beverley Hills 90210 To Me’ et al bring the memories flooding back. For a band who so many dismissed as a throwaway novelty, a seventeen song set still leaves plenty of scope for tracks you’d wished they’d played that final time, especially a raft from that madly brilliant, hugely underrated second album.
We all manage to keep it together until the encore, when they return with former members Lee Boylan and Tom Ryan (picking up a bass guitar for the first time in six years) for an emotionally charged ‘Poached Eggs’ before the 2016 model deliver a raging ‘Ice Cream Apple Fuck’. Then it’s time for some thank yous – including original drummer Adrian Mullan and old label Rubyworks – and a group hug, the reality of the occasion starting to sink in. The show ends, as every other, with ‘Battlestations’ and Jamie thrashing his keyboard within an inch of its life. Except come tomorrow there’ll be no more Fight Like Apes, no more great adventures in the name of beautifully twisted pop music. No wonder Mary leaves the stage in tears. We didn’t just lend them our face all those years ago, we let them have our hearts too. A decade later they’ve returned them – battered around the edges for sure but immeasurably fuller for the experience. Now it’s time for the mantle to be passed on.
Fight Like Apes photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko.