Day two of our local showcase spectacular, and it’s a beautiful night for seeking out new musical talent. Having studied the form, we’re obviously hoping not to miss anything that turns out be brilliant; despite the frantic dashes between venues, we occasionally get the opportunity to stop, chat and compare notes with other hacks and photographers, and inevitably there are ‘aww, I wish I’d seen them!’ moments aplenty. We can’t get disheartened; this event is as much about networking as it is about enjoying the gigs – and making sure the right acts get plenty of love and encouragement to help them progress.
It’s hard to imagine our Saturday could have got off to a better start than with Shannon superstar Kyon in Twisted Pepper. Appearing onstage as a guitar / bass duo, the set begins with some bizzare Guitar Hero living room antics, minus a sofa to fall back on. But very quickly we’re in love with the driving backing track, the shouty vocals and layers of delicious riffs. It’s a real wrench to leave, especially as all we find next door in Academy 2 is Cork band Fingersmith. Now, to be entirely fair, their songs are fine, and very competently performed but it is all-too ordinary indie rock, which comes, like too many others, without a distinctive, original voice. If bands really must go all-out to sound American, they really ought to pick an actual part of the U.S. to ape and then work on mastering the accent until they get it spot on. Generic just won’t do anymore.
Happily, we then follow the lesser-travelled road to find Hired Hands in Andrews Lane. They’re a 7-piece, polygamous marriage of varied, disparate elements, including sax, violin and clarinet; they create a sound which probably ought not to work – but it does, handsomely, and in a far more accessible fashion than The Jimmy Cake ever have. That’s not to say their inventive brand of folk makes for too-easy listening; it’s just nice to find such a talented band pursuing a sound all of their own.
Next, we find Dublin/Galway electro duo Mail Order Messiahs using the festival to launch their debut album, Plain. Like many this weekend, they’re slaves to the laptop, with added guitar, but they do look slightly awkward at the beginning while waiting for things to happen. When it does, the sound is a very interesting mix of melody and samples; they’ve perhaps chosen too tepid a song to open with, but their next one gets the party started – or perhaps they just lulled us into a false sense of serenity. MOM’s songs seem to be full of delightful subtleties that maybe just get lost under Think Tank’s oppressive ceiling – the album should provide all the answers.
Back to ALT and the delights of Cork’s excellent O Emperor. These are 5 men with lots of talent and facial hair, who are showcasing a set of fine, beautifully polished songs, many of which should already be stamped ‘classic-in-waiting’; each seems to come complete with great verses, hummable choruses and gorgeous harmonies. Why can’t all bands be this instantly lovable? Then, just as we’re getting carried away, a girl standing nearby describes them as ‘Snow Patrol-ish’ – no, no, no! O Emperor are already different class.
Having already been smitten by Clare’s Kyon, we note that the sticks are on fire with Ennis’s aspirationally monikered Cities; there’s no doubt about it, these boys are going places. For a start, they all look under 14, with a drummer who makes 90s’ Zac Hanson look like Leonard Cohen. And then they go and make a disturbingly well-constructed, diligently boisterous, bloody loud electro-punk racket, with plenty of adrenalin-pumping synth buzzes when least expected or called for, and live beats that tear up all the rock, dance and drum -n’ bass rule books. Amazing. Whatever you do, see Cities live as soon as possible.
State thoroughly enjoyed Cutaways last year, so we went back to enjoy them again in Academy 2. They’re kooky, catchy-chorus specialists from Belfast, who also enjoy a bit of banter in between. Thoroughly enjoyable, as always.
Back in Twisted Pepper, we’re left waiting a little too long to be entertained by the ambient electronica of The Holy Roman Army. Having loved their debut album How The Light Gets In from first listen this summer, it’s a shame they aren’t off the mark quicker. Their complicated set-up might be a bit ambitious for HWCH – bands always make a far better account of themselves by keeping it simple and straightforwardly perfect. They eventually pull it out of the bag but it’s a good job we already know they’re brilliant. We stay in that venue for Valerie Francis. Now, anyone who’s met her knows she’s a funny, vivacious character who creates a good percentage of the life and soul in any room – why she doesn’t inject more of this natural ability into her songs and onstage persona remains a mystery. Perhaps the venue or audience isn’t to her liking, but the experience isn’t moving enough to make us want to stay too long.
We head off to recharge out hearts in Think Tank, where Halloween has come early in the shape of Dublin livewires Liz Is Evil. Aggressive, scary surgeons in makeup and comedy glasses (or were they real ones?) playing frenetic, punk-ridden, moreish rockabilly. It may be gimmicky to look at but musically, they’re substantial and potentially – and beautifully – dangerous.
Now to the climax of our evening over in ALT, and the part we might call -Enigma Variations’. Two bands with big profiles and reputations, ready to display their wares to disciples, unbelievers and the straightforwardly curious alike, and show just why they deserved their places at the top of the bill. Firstly, Sweet Jane. This band are a miracle of modern self-promotion; such is their ubiquity, anyone would believe they were launching an album every month. Yet, their most incredible talent is for making the extraordinarily ordinary look effortfully heroic. It’s hard to think of a more derivative band on any musical circuit, yet they pour blood, sweat and whiskey into making it look like all their own work. It’s hard not to be impressed by such sheer audacity but something about their performance tonight suggests that their style is now slipping and the lack of substance is being exposed.
Then, State’s evening comes to a shuddering conclusion with Adebisi Shank. The -Shank have had quite a year, not least via their cult following’s rabid defence of their heroes’ honour against anyone who appears to take up online arms against them. The problem is, it’s too easy to be bullied into falling in line; and if observers look through the hysterical haze and view the band with a degree of sobriety and subjectivity, they’re more likely to be confounded than impressed. What Adebisi Shank do have – endless energy, noise, some thrilling riffs, inventive routes out of those riffs, and a very sweaty red balaclava – they use to full capacity. And how their audience lap it up. For an indie band with only one (very short) album, this level of blatant crowd pleasing isn’t as easy to achieve as it seems – so for that, at the very least, they deserve their adulation.
A great night all in, and we now look forward to the weekend’s finale.