Strange Brew has always been a bastion of the new, the interesting and the should-be established. Tonight is no different with three acts that all can lay claim to one, or maybe all, of those labels. As the summers dwindling light cools the streets of Galway, the punters shuffling into Roisin Dubh are safe in the knowledge that something awaits within to keep this astounding summer of music turning.
Dublin band Sails kick off the bill playing to an already sizeable amount of punters for a first-on act. Their influences are clear from the offset – here some Arcade Fire on first track ‘Lakes’, a little of The National amidst the gilded sway of ‘Not For The Evening’ – but it in no way detracts from what is an engaging set. Technically tight, especially as the set winds down with ‘Offers’, the young band have crafted a distinctly Irish sound to their music but lead singer Darragh Cahills vocals come across as honest rather than merely capitalising on their lilt. Vocal harmonies wind in and out of the loud and quiet moments alike, Theodora Byrne drags every serene note possible from her keys and as they crash through the final moments of ‘Offers’ in strict unison, the few audience members that began the set more interested in a chin wag have well and truly been silenced.
As Pockets organise themselves on stage, the crowd begins to swell noticeably – by the time they start into set opener ‘Ben’ the venue is nearly full. The band dig into the body of their set, clad uniformly in black with lead singer Faustina Finnerty taking centre stage as they rattle through the remaining 5 tracks in their set with the surety of a band beyond their years. Backed by a solid, precise drum sound the music veers from glacial to intense within seconds. Sean Leonards lead guitar is in the vein of The xx’s Romy Madley Crofts but without the rigidity of that band’s sound – the comparison is no doubt drawn amongst the audience but it is unmerited; their love for dark fabrics aside, the band have a sound that stands well apart from the English trio’s. As final song ‘They Will’ comes to a close the band are met with resounding acceptance from established fans and a large slew of new ones, barely able to leave the stage amidst the rapturous applause.
Proving her worth as one of our Faces of 2014 here at State, Somerville (the Maria has been dropped) takes to the stage with a sense of expectation palpable in the air. The dichotomy of her musical influences has never sounded as unified as during her recent live performances. Citing her native Connemara as a major influence in her work she never feels like the tortured artist many that quote their place of birth as inspiration do; to every sombre section there is a vocal lift that warms away the cold and she has an easy manner on stage that has every set of eyes and ears carefully trained tonight.
Wrapped around her trademark red electric guitar and accompanied tonight by a full band the sound she has cultivated in making the six tracks she plays through is one drenched in a tangible sense of atmosphere with the lyrics pouring forth from somewhere so ingrained that the vocals appear nearly effortless – like recent critical darlings Daughter but with the curtains open instead of nailed shut.
Highlight ‘All My People’ segues beautifully around her vocals with the added layer of electronic hush strengthening the impact of her voice but never overpowering it. Channelling the classic folk vocals of Joni Mitchell via the west coast of Ireland whilst sounding wholly modern is no mean feat – Maria Somerville has matched it and made this sound her own.
As the finals bars of ‘Lies’ reach a close her send off from the stage is indication of her strength as an artist and her growth this past few years. From sharing a stage with just her trusty guitar to a full band threaded together with a nuanced sense of modernity the arrival of her debut album can’t come soon enough.
Photo: Olga Kuzmenko