One would think that the arrival of one of the most exciting alternative hip-hop acts to emerge in recent years would have created quite a stir in Dublin, yet a strangely subdued atmosphere awaits Mercury Award winners Young Fathers on their much heralded visit to the Academy. Given the band’s reputation, not to mention the standout quality of their material, it’s a mystery that their only Dublin show isn’t a sell-out, but nevertheless there is an air of expectancy in the room. The flashing lights and endless spurts of dry ice don’t do much to ease the surroundings but when the stoic Edinburgh trio do eventually make their entrance onto the fairly low key set, they avoid the pleasantries and get straight down to business.
Accompanied by usual live drummer Steven Morrison, Young Fathers immediately make their presence felt with hard-hitting ‘Dead’ opener ‘No Way’ a track that has a similarly advent effect on the room as it did on their debut record. Having unequivocally announced themselves however, Messrs Hastings, Massaquoi and Bankole don’t let up, exhibiting a tenacious, often aggressive on-stage presence as they take turns to provocatively spit their way through some of their most forceful tunes. Energetic renditions of ‘Just Another Bullet’, and excellent early EP track ‘The Queen is Dead’ showcase their contrasting vocal styles – which range from the frenetically raspy to the buoyantly soulful – while maintaining a nice flow to proceedings before they unleash the full rhythmic force of ‘War’.
This is followed by the upbeat synth of crowd-favourite ‘Get Up’, aptly prompting the audience to do as instructed, and a slightly flat, although equally appreciated rendition of new single release ‘Rain or Shine’. With the crowd now noticeably more enthused the band’s demeanour remains steadfastly despondent, their no nonsense approach appearing almost unwavering at times. Despite the lack of engagement however Young Fathers never let their energy levels drop, while their ability to change gears mid-set demonstrates both their confidence and composure as a live band. With their murky, Reggae-fused grunge reaching its zenith with a brilliantly vehement delivery of the affecting ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’ (the title track of their new album) the band bring us back down to earth with the smooth sounds of ‘Soon Come Soon’ and ‘Low’, another favourite from the prize-winning ‘Dead’ and arguably their most accomplished on the night. Given the nature of the performance an encore seems unlikely, but the trio nonetheless seem determined to leave their mark with new single ‘Shame’ going down a particular treat. Fittingly Young Fathers leave us with a resonating a-capella on early EP recording ‘I Heard’, a typically sullen ‘G’ Hastings left to belt out the final notes as his band mates subtly depart the stage. It feels like an appropriate end to a low-key, yet wholly arresting performance.
Young Fathers photographed for State by Kieran Frost.