At €12.50 including a free pint from the sponsors Bulmer’s Berry, there can’t be many better value gigs taking place in Dublin this year than the first of the ‘One Summer’s Eve’ shows, which combine a mini-festival feel in Temple Bar’s heart with an American headliner that – through sheer hard work – has become something of an Irish institution. If you want an idea of how popular Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s 43 Irish dates over the last decade – including a belter at last years Electric Picnic – have made them, one look at the sizable queue outside ought to do it.
The North Strand Kontra Band is a perfectly chosen support act for the occasion. The Dubliners fusion of traditional instrumentation and a performance tingling with 21st-century energy livens the crowd in a similar way to the headliners, blending hints of recognisability with a fun-loving outlook and a sound that neatly merges their own brass section, banjo, clarinet, harpsichord and mellow drums. North Strand Kontra Band look like they’re having so much fun performing it’s impossible not to get swept along with things. Odd and playful musical twist though they might be they’re bouncy enough to pull shapes to down the front, and varied enough to keep us interested.
Looking a touch worse for wear, the brothers and half-brothers that make up Hypnotic Brass Ensemble host a strikingly lively show, fusing hip-hop beats and call and answer style rap into their seven-piece brass section. If that sounds like a curious blend, it is, but one that works exceptionally well, with the swirling crescendos of big-band style brass interspersed with crowd-pumping vocals and ample audience interaction. Over the course of their show, towels are signed down the front, shoeless crowd surfing’s indulged in and long periods are spend stood atop a speaker tower egging on an ecstatic audience. Hypnotic Brass has clearly cemented their reputation as local heroes, and the limited selection of vocals that appear on self-titled album getting a fair bit of sing-a-long. At times it’s all a bit senseless (see one track that’s based entirely around the repetition of a lyric about Kryptonite), but quite intensely entertaining.
What lifts Hypnotic Brass to the next level is their ability to create the kind of rush of blood to the head which – when combined with their fun-loving attitude – is close to impossible not to dance to. Looking at the crowd down the front, who sway and ‘point at the sky’ incessantly, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a straight up hip-hop gig, with banging of fists and the random kissing of crowd members thrown in at every possible interval. If this was straight up hip-hop, though, Hypnotic wouldn’t draw a crowd like this: a unique range and liveliness that you just can’t capture on record is what makes them stand out, and this audience is a eclectic as they come. At 100 minutes in length, nobody’s left disappointed. Many visiting bands proclaim their love for Ireland when passing through, but few make it feel so genuine: with shows like this, the Chicago natives couldn’t be more welcome.
Photos: Kieran Frost