Such is the expansive nature of this year’s State Faces that our normal launch gig was just never going to be enough. Instead we’ve moved up the street from the Mercantile to Whelan’s and joined forces with their annual Ones To Watch festival, where the majority of our twenty acts will be playing over the four days – including our own little corner in the upstairs venue on the Friday night.
Not that Thursday is any less impressive, with a healthy crowd making their way up and downstairs as the music on offer overlaps. For the Faces offerings tonight, it’s largely a question of volume and attitude to the fore – an approach perfectly demonstrated by M(h)aol. It’s their fourth gig since they made their debut at our We Shall Overcome benefit show in October but they’ve already become a more focused, if none the less intense, experience and are fast becoming a very important addition to the Irish scene. Downstairs in the main room, there’s a radically different take on alternative music to be found, but one that proves to be equally powerful. It turns out that the sprightly ‘Ms Summer Breeze’ doesn’t really give a true impression of the path on which Third Smoke seem to be headed, namely becoming a rock band of the most epic nature (complete with pounding percussion and roaring vocal harmonies).
Travis Oaks are pretty epic themselves, bridging the gap between classic rock and a younger, clearly excitable audience who lap up their big riffs. Talking of which, there’s plenty of those upstairs where Tuath are leaving people gobsmacked. It’s insane stuff, a wall of noise built on massive drums and topped off with some mighty sax playing. Oh, and Irish language vocals. We haven’t seen anything like it since Robocobra Quartet blew our minds this time last year. Amazing.
Onto Friday, and the evening very quickly transforms into a carnival of splendid noise with the arrival of Contour. Glitchy electronica, dubby beats and a performance that begins in such animated fashion that we’re literally lost for words for the second night running. Conan and Anna take a Eurythmics modus operandi and inject it in suitably flamboyant fashion – the singer flexing her pop-star persona as her musical partner twiddles analogue synth knobs and head-bobs to his blazing creations. Flashes of RnB, smooth and atmospheric electronica, with just the right amount of angular flourishes – the evening is off to a winning start.
It’s thrilling to see our Faces cover star Joni do her thing in person. On paper, she has a similar set-up to Contour and, ergo, a similar sound you might think. It couldn’t be further from the truth, as her deep shades of cool and bluesy vocal delivery slide effortlessly over beats that are quick and syncopated but not heavy, synth lines that are throbbing, but rounded, and bass that hits you in the chest but doesn’t rattle you – the violin an added string to her already impressive bow.
Making his solo Dublin debut, Young Phantom displays a coherent, intelligent vocal delivery that could rival seasoned MCs with ease. In terms of performance, this young man might still have some ground to gain, but the beauty of his emotive, and at times quick-witted, rhymes more than makes up for any lack of presence – a trait that inevitably comes with time and a few more shows under the belt. A bright future lies ahead for his dark arts.
Likewise for Aik J, whose performance is so colourful, varied and unorthodox that we’re not sure how content we are putting him into the future RnB box. Not that he and his band don’t have us grooving with pockets of smooth, electronic jams, but there is a raucous energy throughout his time on stage that communicates an artist – with a strong sense of the technicalities of writing – well beyond his years. Simply exhilarating and a stylish performance that shakes the room just as much as our Faces of 2015 Bitch Falcon are downstairs.
Not long after, there’s more room shaking to be had courtesy of Katie Laffan. Ska hasn’t sounded so energetic in a long time and the fact that the singer already performs with so much confidence and vigour is a testament to how well disciplined she and her band are. Tight, booming drum breaks and sax that’d knock your socks off, Laffan owns the stage and everybody watching. Dropping back down to the main stage and Le Boom begin with definitely the best jacket of the night but it soon gets too hot for that. Strong Friday night electro bringing the party they are assured and confident and Christy Leech certainly knows his way around a dance hook. A technicolour delight to bring a memorable night to a close.
Saturday sees a return to our guitar orientated ways, although again there’s a range of interpretations on offer. Slow Riot do much to confirm their position as a band on the rise, while fellow Shannonsiders Monday Villains are already making a thrilling racket so early in their career in the front bar. Back upstairs there’s a serious double bill going down, with the head on collision of Not Monsters and Anti-One keeping the energy levels up into the small hours. All of which just leaves The Mariannes to fly the Faces flag on Sunday’s more soothing, acoustic based bill with their rousing urban roots tunes.
Of course, our Faces are only part of a bill that once again brought together a ridiculously talented collection of musicians from across the country. Many catch our eye over the four days and you’ll no doubt read about them over the coming months and certainly see them at our monthly Faces gigs, also in Whelan’s Upstairs and kicking off on February 12th with AE Mak, Staring At Lakes and The Witch Trials. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for guest list details.
M(h)aol photographed for State by Kieran Frost.