Live Review: Idlewild, Concerto For Constantine

30 04 2010

**As originally published on BBC’s Across The Line – Apr 2010**

Having announced an indefinite hiatus after the current tour thanks to, as Roddy himself admits, “There isn’t the demand for our music that there was in the past”, tonight’s Idlewild show is pretty much unmissable as you never know if or when they’ll be back. They’re a band that re-ignited the British rock scene once Brit-pop outstayed it’s welcome – this bunch of young Scottish upstarts, who were shambolically brilliant playing this passionate, spiky indie-punk. They were a breath of fresh air. Over the years, they’ve progressed and matured, their music is more radio-friendly, more polished and their song-writing has progressed in leaps and bounds. They’re a band who’ve matured, their sound has changed; it’s been a natural progression. It’s a shame to think that the demand for Idlewild isn’t there anymore as they’ve undoubtably been one of the most important British bands since their inception in 1995.

Opening tonight’s show is Concerto For Constantine who’re a bit of an Irish indie super group, featuring ex-JJ72 singer and guitarist Mark Greaney, ex-Turn (and Idlewild) bassist Gavin Fox and ex-Frames and Bell X1 drummer Paul Brennan. The last time they were in Belfast, they were supporting The Smashing Pumpkins. You can tell that would’ve been a huge honour for these guys as the Pumpkins influence is obvious, there’s a grunge back-bone to their sound but with a sort-of spacy, futuristic thing goin’ on. Muse are the most obvious point of reference really, but there’s hints of Nirvana and even more classically-inspired parts too. Greaney’s more like a rock-star now than he was in JJ72, the trademark high-pitched vocals have been traded in (mostly) for a deeper growl and he’s looking a bit rougher round the edges; more Kurt Cobain than his clean cut JJ72 days. CFC have the potential to be very good; they’re proficient musicians with plenty of experience in successful bands but at the minute they still sound like they’re trying to find their feet and decide what type of band they actually want to be.

Idlewild take to the stage shortly after and wow, they’re all looking very skinny. Are times really that hard in camp Idlewild? Someone needs to buy these guys a haggis bap. The sound in the Stiff Kitten tonight is very, very loud, the guitars are distorting and a bit of clarity has been lost in favour of sheer noise. Roddy’s vocals seem a little low in the mix, it might be because he’s not belting them out like he used to, although his actual singing has obviously improved over the years as he is now, note perfect.

Roseability is the highlight of the opening few songs of the set. We’re also treated to renditions of Love Steals Us From Loneliness, Readers and Writers, You Held The World In Your Arms and a couple of newer, slower songs including Make Another World. Roddy introduces the next song as “a quieter song” before playing The Night Will Bring You Back To Life. It shows how much their music has changed when they play some slower, quieter songs before introducing “a quieter song”.

The old fans are appeased and acknowledged with “a song for those who’ve been coming to see us for a very long time” when they burst into When I Argue I See Shapes, then treat us to a triple header of songs from 100 Broken Windows (Actually It’s Darkness, Listen To What You’ve Got, Little Discourage). It’s interesting to note that Roddy doesn’t bark through these songs the way he did 10 years ago, the strained vocals and shouts are nowhere to be seen tonight. It’s disappointing really, the passion and aggression of the songs witnessed in previous performances and even on the recordings, is replaced with singing ‘properly’. It’s good but it’s not the way they’re meant to be – where’s the emotion gone?

There’s a few more new tracks up next including Post-Electric and Blame It On Your Obvious Ways, delivered perfectly, but there’s something about Roddy tonight; he seems pleasant enough, his singing is flawless but he seems uninspired, disinterested even. The crowd are for the most part completely static, maybe that’s part of the problem, but when the last few albums have been aimed at a more mature audience, it was never likely to be any other way. During the instrumental sections of songs, Roddy always exits to the side of the stage – maybe he’s trying to give the other guys in the band the spotlight, but it comes across like he just doesn’t want to be up there tonight.

We’re treated to a few more songs, including the ‘encore’ (played without the pretense of leaving the stage and coming back again) including Everyone Says You’re So Fragile and In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction before the final song, A Modern Way of Letting Go. And that’s it all over. It’s been a good gig, there’s been a mix of old and new songs, played note perfectly and sang note perfectly. But Idlewild seemed like a band going through the motions tonight. Having announced their hiatus, they were like the guy at work who’s handed in his notice and is doing the minimum to get by. Maybe it’s because they’re getting older, it’s gotta be hard to be as passionate and aggressive in your performance when you’re in your mid-thirties. Maybe there’s just not as much to be angry about when you’re married with kids having sold millions of records. Hopefully the break will allow Idlewild to get the fire back, find their inspiration and come out fighting. Because tonight, they seem like a band content on being ‘good’ when they used to be great.

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Live Review: Dropkick Murphys, Face To Face

22 04 2010

**As originally published on BBC’s Across The Line – Apr 2010**

For those who aren’t aware, the Dropkick Murphys are a celtic punk band all the way from Boston. They’re not Irish exactly but they’re proud of their roots and it’s clear that Belfast is more than happy to embrace them as our own; they’re becoming quite regular visitors and each time the crowds are getting bigger.

We’re in the sold out Mandela Hall tonight – there’s green, white and gold everywhere, silly wigs and leprechaun hats but more importantly, everyone seems to have had a pint of Guinness or ten.

Before we get to the Dropkicks, we’ve got the first ever Irish appearance of Face To Face, a seminal Calfornia punk band who got back together in 2008 after a four year hiatus. They’re a band of considerable pedigree, having toured with NOFX, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Offspring in the past. In fact, The Offspring’s current drummer was Face To Face’s drummer for several years and four albums. Their single, The New Way was on heavy rotation on now-defunct music channel, P-Rock – remember it? It’s about as impressive a support band as you’re likely to get.

Now that I’ve significantly hyped them up, are they any good live? Yes. Of course they’re good. They start off with A-OK before flowing straight into Struggle. The sound is a bit hazy at first with the guitars lost in the mix but by the end of the second song things are sounding pretty spot on. They’re obviously genuinely happy to be here -all smiles, enjoying some friendly banter. They ask the crowd to sing-a-long and fill in the “woah-ohs” on Bill Of Goods and Belfast happily obliges. What was initially a modest crowd watching sceptically with arms folded or worse, ignoring the band altogether downing pints at the bar, has already been converted; it’s really packed now, things are starting to get a bit more lively, they’ve got everyone’s attention.

We’re greeted to “a love song” when they burst frantically into You’ve Done Nothing, which is about as romantic as any 2-minute burst of loving is every likely to be I suppose. Not very. They continue their set blasting through tracks from an extensive back catalogue, musically they sit somewhere between Hot Water Music and Rocket From The Crypt; blistering punk rock with an upbeat feel.

Now it’s the Dropkick Murphys turn to shine and they milk their intro for all it’s worth – there’s a long fiddle-de-dee Irish folk instrumental played before they take to the stage. The expectant crowd can’t agree on a suitable chant as “Let’s Go Murphys”, “Let’s Go Dropkicks” and “Dropkick Murphys” all get an airing but the one thing that is agreed on is that it’s time for the main event.

They fire straight into For Boston, with front-man Al Barr bouncing around the stage like he’s psyching himself up for a scrap. He looks edgy and jerky, he’s a ball of energy; it’s not long before he’s down in the front row getting fans to sing the lyrics back at him. The Dropkicks are a band who put on a real show, there’s plenty of flashy lighting and they’ve got a huge green backdrop which looks church-like. Tonight, they’re preaching to the converted. There’s a fairly sizeable mosh pit and everyone’s singing along to every song as they play their way though favourites such as Famous For Nothing, The State Of Massachusetts, Sunshine Highway and Time To Go early in the set.

The tempo never really lets up and it’s heaving in the Mandela now, totally rammed, it’s sweaty, everyone’s boozed up and having a right old shindig. It’s a triumphant atmosphere actually, it feels like a homecoming gig. I suppose it is, of sorts. A pretend homecoming at least. As questionable as their Irishness may be, it’s undeniable that the Dropkicks write great tunes and put on a great show; it’s just non-stop anthem after anthem tonight as they work their way through a selection of tracks, new and old, including Caught In A Jar, Bastards On Parade, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya and countless others.

Towards the end of the set, the Dropkicks are joined onstage by Stephanie Dougherty, singer from fellow Boston punk band, Deadly Sins, to share vocal duties on Dirty Glass – a song which she sang on the recording of as well. It’s a definite highlight, and it’s shortly followed by an all-female stage invasion for Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced. Things are getting a bit chaotic in here, but it’s all harmless fun and it’s a credit to the security staff for letting everyone get on with it.

The band clear the stage for a while but leave all their equipment set up in true encore fashion, leading them to play another few songs including Shipping Up To Boston and Skinhead On The MBTA, which prompts an all-male stage invasion this time round. Apart from a few sneaky girls who just made their way up there too, I saw ya…

All in all, the Dropkick Murphys put on a helluva show and turned the Mandela into a proper Irish knees-up. Not bad for a bunch of Americans. The audience tonight was truly diverse as well, plenty of punks with mohawks, plenty of drunken students with their novelty wigs and plenty of older trad/folk fans too, all together to enjoy the craic. And I think it’s safe to say that tonight, they’d all agree that the craic was ninety.