It’s a bitter night in Dublin and the Button Factory is dead. The bar staff seem bemused by how much time they have to chat, and tables aren’t immediately colonised but are easily shared between strangers. The uniform: full-length winter coat, designer stubble and an XY chromosome, although a few choose to flaunt that final point. Death Cab for Cutie’s ‘The New Year’ plays over the PA system.
Yes, it’s that bad, and I blame Foals.
Just across the Liffey, Yannis and his mob are playing the second of two sold-out shows at the Academy, whereas WIFE comes on stage to the sight of no more than 30 standing audience members. The side-project of Altar of Plagues’ James Kelly, WIFE initially has a hint of James Blake about him – that cracked type of soul music refracted by snippets of nervy, downbeat electronica – but quickly morphs into something else. It’s still atmospheric and electronic, but there’s a greater variance in tones and a penchant for shattering urban/industrial percussion – like a restrained production of STOMP. Meanwhile, the world’s most artful L’Oreal advert plays out on the big screen above his head, as lithe young women contort their bodies and whip their hair in slow-motion.
The crowd is respectful, but WIFE starts to lose their attention mid-way through his set. Individual conversations can be heard, although he begins to drown them out with a wall of sound, made of snaps, hisses and lashings of bass. Kelly doesn’t get enough time to win the floor over, and he barely has time to leave the stage before Holy Other commences his set. The benefits of sharing equipment are immediately apparent in this instance, but the quick (near non-existent) turnaround takes everyone by surprise. With no discernible separation between the two sets and little difference between the two TriAngle-signed acts, it takes a few seconds for some to realise that headliner is now playing.
Then again, Holy Other has never been too keen on standing out, unlike, say, Foals. He doesn’t produce infuriatingly pretentious soundbites, soundtrack Skins or do so much as actually move when playing live – perhaps that’s why the floor is slow to fill and why everyone seemingly chose to see the Oxford quintet rather than Holy Other. This shadowy bald figure, decked out all in black, takes the brace position over his equipment and lets up only to bob along with his own beats.
Smoke spreads and dim lights search as ‘(W)here’ brings itself to life. The projection has changed to that of a slowly billowing bedsheet, strangely capturing the eyes’ attention as the crashing beat escalates and intensifies – it’s a beat that Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor should be trying to save their kids from. However, as powerful as ‘(W)here’ is, much of what follows just drifts along and does very little to distinguish itself from how it sounds on-record; there seems to be little live or alive about it.
Held is a good debut album that separates Holy Other from the pack of sub-Burial imitators out there, but it isn’t done justice tonight. The title track prolonged yearning outstays its welcome, and ‘U Now’ just sounds pre-recorded. It isn’t until the piercing vocal of ‘Tense Past’ hits that Holy Other proves his live show is more than just one mysterious figure hitting the right buttons in the correct order, and that’s still a sample.
A couple of favourites from the With U EP consolidate the tentative improvements made. The delicate ‘Feel Something’ injects some emotion into a largely sterile performance, while ‘Touch’ represents the gigs apex, taking a more heightened and spontaneous form – the percussion, in particular, stands out from the recorded version. And with that, it’s over. Holy Other leaves and everyone is left to wonder what they just experienced. The queue for WAR is growing outside. Maybe they can chat about the Foals gig to distract themselves from the cold while the staff prepare the venue. They won’t have to wait long anyway.