Day three of the great gourmet gig shindig, but there are sad signs of festival fatigue at large. The crowds seem to have dwindled and buzz isn’t quite what it was on Friday and Saturday – hopefully this is more to do with it being a school night than any comment on the festival itself. For those of us still hungry to forage in the venues for something new and thrilling, there’s still plenty to see.
Beginning in what State has to say has been the pick of the venues this weekend, Twisted Pepper, we find Galwegian five-piece Go Panda Go. They might describe themselves as -pop’ but, as they’re going -unplugged’ (i.e. they’re sitting down and calling it -acoustic’ while being very much plugged in) tonight, there’s more of a country-folk vibe to their songs. This is no bad thing either; they have some very serious melodies and harmonies, very much in a mid-Atlantic style and comes complete with additional glockenspiel. Now there’s something – what has happened to all the glockenspiels? Two years ago you weren’t allowed to perform without one. Anyway, we’d like to see Go Panda Go under less restrictive, less worthy circumstances.
Next door in Academy 2, we catch the last few numbers of Armoured Bear. They’re a good example of a very competent band whose musical seriousness slightly overpowers their ability to entertain; nice but a little dull. They’re also a little under-prepared, as seen when they announce a song called -Sunburnt’ – we could all have been sunburnt to a crisp in the time it took their frontman to (de)tune his guitar. The songs we saw were largely slowies but almost certainly growers – a little knowledge and patience will go a long way with this band. Still, the new guitar that said frontman has just bought himself, to compensate for being clamped earlier in the day, is very sexy indeed.
We wait in the same venue for Conor Deasy’s Biggles Flys Again. No, not THAT Conor Deasy – and don’t you just love deliberate misspellings? Anyway, this Deasy has a very lovely, earthy quality to his voice and his beautiful chiming acoustic guitar accompaniment is the perfect antidote to the now hackneyed self-indulgence that passes itself off as -singer-songwriter’. This is pretty much o-fi at its lo-est but, quite often in this set, at its prettiest too.
A nice jaunt to Andrews Lane and we’re in the company of Galway’s Disconnect 4, a band who are creating quite a buzz with their Modern Love EP. The four-piece have an out-there, -we-are-the-shit’ self-assurance which just about destroys any potential accusations of affected indie-cool. Or does it? Certainly, frontman Leon Butler cuts an angry, commanding figure onstage, especially when undressed to his vest like a vengeful Bruce Willis. His towering presence apart, though, the songs are thrillingly well performed, if still a little undercooked at this stage. But we think the fact that they’ve a bit work on, and yet still rock, is pretty exciting.
A nice easy run back to Twisted Pepper is in order to see Jogging. Some significant word-of-mouth had it that there was a bit of buzz about this band, so we have to express a teeny bit of disappointment that they’re not a bit more spectacular than we’d hoped. They’re certainly smarter than your average three-piece power trio, utilising a sophisticated touch on guitar, replacing alll-too-easy power chords with a variety of intricate techniques. Also, their influence pool don’t seem to be dredging all the usual rock clichÃ©s, but there’s still something missing from the picture – memorable choruses is where we’d put our finger on it. Enjoyable but, right now, their most abundant quality is potential.
At Academy 2, we catch the latter half of Dublin’s Autumn Owls, one of whom is the brother of a member of Jogging – how unfortunate for the rest of the family they’re scheduled simultaneously. The -Owls are infinitely better at this stage of their development; very well-rounded songwriting, with evocative, studious brilliance from their multi-guitar frontman – and, they also have one of those suddenly elusive glockenspiels, which they use to delicate effect. We’ll be back to see them again. Shortly afterwards, Tidal District‘s clever, sussed, charming, intricately constructed mini-masterpieces tickle a lot of the senses in the same, rapidly filling venue. Again, it’s so good to hear a band who have few, if any, obvious reference points, and whose oddball indie pop comes from their heart and imagination rather than from a pre-packaged identikit bundle. We love them very much indeed.
Back in Twisted Pepper and perhaps the most incongruous band of the weekend. Approaching the door into the venue, this lively, chart-orientated electronic pop wafts out into bar area – odd music to play between indie bands, we think. But no, this is the much-heralded Tiny Magnetic Pets. Musically, they’re on the button, but there’s something very awkward about their stage presence. For all the world, they have the look of a father and daughter duo, the sort of act you’d expect to find performing Tina Turner covers in a mid–80s’ Butlin’s. Paula Gilmer is certainly a -proper’ pop singer with at least a hint of the necessary star quality about her, and they have a clutch of proper, commercial pop songs – but their live image is in need of a radical overhaul. One man at the bar keeps his back to them for the entire set – maybe that’s how it works best.
Perhaps more visually adept are Sounds Of System Breakdown in the same venue. Their impressive set comprises a handful of thoroughly catchy tunes, head-thudding riffs, and danceable beats, coming across as a refined and clever combination of technical wizardry and more traditional of indie guitar elements. Their Achilles heel might be that the required momentum slips due to the half-hearted delivery of the vocals. Still, they’re easily talented and quirky enough to make you want more.
If you like your hardcore, then Galway’s Only Fumes And Corpses definitely know the score. Onstage in ALT, they get rid of a lot of personal angst with their loud, lovable, boot-in-your-face, yet somehow cuddly, rock. Gems aplenty here. Finally, Dublin three-piece Funeral Suits are a fascinating way to finish our weekend. Having taken seemingly forever to set up, they strike coy poses and much dangling of their fringes, suggesting much close-inspection of the stage and their shoes. Their set begins very slowly too but, as it progresses, it’s clear there’s a lot of magic going on in their songs. Draped in sexy synths, distorted guitar and brilliantly robust drumming, there’s a palpable realisation that something beautiful is happening – we’re not the only ones who seem to be saying “wow”. The real beauty of these songs is that, in terms of influence, they don’t have a recognisable starting point, making their melodic journey all the more joyful to join in. This is a band whose sound and assurance suggest they’re already earmarked for a great deal of future success.
Which brings us to the end of our thoroughly enjoyable HWCH 2009. If we’re to draw a list of conclusions, to be of use to any future participants, from this year’s event, it’s these:
‘¢ There may be too many bands on the roster who are here performing before they’re ready to do so – if you’re not prepared, people really will just walk away. Practice makes perfect is the oldest clichÃ© in the book – for a reason.
‘¢ Remember, in a festival like this anywhere in the world, you’ve got a constantly rolling two songs to impress punters – make sure your set is as tight as the proverbials, and adaptable enough to survive ‘technical difficulties’ and other eventualities. As we’ve banged on about somewhat, too many acts have set-ups far too complicated for a 20 minute performance – HWCH is all about ‘plug-in-and-go’.
‘¢ Stop worrying about how you sound too – that’s the mixing desk’s job. Remember, your first song is your soundcheck, just give it socks. There’s nothing more tedious to watch than band members asking for more vocal here, less guitar there every three minutes. And as for guitarists tuning up as loudly as possible between songs’¦
‘¢ Laptops now easily outnumber glockenspiels.
‘¢ And finally – to the young men in bands – why, when there are so many classic rock and pop looks you could be influenced by, does the -Benny from Abba’ look persist?
So, until next year, then, thanks for another great HWCH festival.