Wednesday 15 July 2020

Fontaines D.C. - Kilmainham Gaol - 14th July 2020

Fontaines D.C. followed in the footsteps of their brothers and close friends The Murder Capital by performing a socially distanced audience-free gig as part of the Other Voices #courage2020 series on Tuesday evening.

Playing at the historic Kilmainham Gaol, a couple of miles from the centre of Dublin, the band performed a near perfect ten song set which seemed to send the fan forums and social media into a frenzy as, what is now becoming the norm, a live webcast gig offered us an escape from the continued COVID battle giving us a glimmer of hope and reminding us that live music, no matter the surroundings, is an essential part of many people’s lives.

From my one and only visit to the prison I remember it being dominated by an unusual horseshoe-shaped Central Hall with its central vaulted space in the East Wing. With spy holes in every cell door there’s that notion of the guards being on the outside looking in though for the purpose of this transmission it’s flipped on its head and it’s us looking in on the band from the outside as they lay themselves bare, leaving nothing behind as they give everything for forty-plus minutes.

Grian, a man of few words apart from when singing his heart out, even mustered a few words telling us it was “good to be back playing again” and you sensed the five-piece were enjoying playing together in the same room again under circumstances which must have felt strange to a band who are used to feeding off the energy of their avid followers.

With no introduction they’re straight into one of their new songs A Hero’s Death. Tom Coll comes flying out of the traps like a man on a mission. Beating down heavily on the drums with the anger and frustration of a man who’s missed doing his job. The monotonous, repetitive “life ain’t always empty” mantra from Grian Chatten is perfect given the current location aided by the backdrop and bleak setting giving an extra impetus to the song. There are harmonies and there’s positivity with the “looking forward to a brighter future” line but it doesn’t stop Grian sneering and snarling his way through this new experience.

Carlos O’Connell flexes his muscles at the beginning of Sha Sha Sha but it’s all about the driving force of Coll’s drums and Connor Deegan III’s bass. They provide the rhythm and harmony ensuring the beat goes on. Grian’s voice echoing around the expansive room reaching every nook and cranny, shouting to the rooftops that “there’s always gonna be tears”.

Carlos takes time to tell us the band have chosen Focus Ireland as their charity of choice for tonight’s show because of their ability to cause “meaningful change in Ireland for homelessness” before dedicating the songs tonight for that cause. Focus Ireland is a non-profit organisation serving people who are homeless as well as those at risk of homelessness. A worthwhile cause indeed.

A spiky rock and roll Chequeless Reckless is more relevant than ever in these strange times. It’s hard to disagree with Chatten’s claim “money is the sandpit of the soul”. The band were hurtling along at breakneck speed but still finding the time to record and produce a second album, on the back of extensive tours nationally and worldwide accompanying a monster debut album. They had to slow down. Never did they imagine that they’d be playing a socially distanced gig in Kilmainham Gaol as a way of reaching out to their fans with that question still on everyone’s lips - “what’s really going on?”

The eerie silence that follows each song adds further substance to the performance. Prisons weren’t designed to be bright and beautiful places. Fontaines D.C. shine a light through the bleak, damp, dark setting with their colourful sonic approach.

A psych fuelled Televised Mind, taken from their forthcoming second album A Hero's Death, sounds electric live with its soul searching, inventiveness delving deep into their repertoire. It’s testament to the band that your own mind wanders as it feels like an adventurous trip into the unknown.

Too Real, a firm favourite with band and followers alike, sees Carlos playing guitar with the customary beer bottle. Grian pacing the room like a caged tiger losing its mind and he’s looking up and around the jail taking in all the history of the building that is symbolic to Irish independence. Like with all their songs the effectiveness of Connor Curley and Connor Deegan III doesn’t go unnoticed as they make everything look so easy even when edgy.

The harrowing I Don’t Belong comes next. The opener for the new album encapsulates the climate perfectly with its sad and lonely ambience. The dark brooding intro of Conor Deegan III’s bass goes in tandem with the background of the dimly lit, isolated space as a subdued Chatten reveals struggles with mental health which would probably have resonated with those who had been held captive behind the closed doors years before.

Liberty Belle is its usual raucous self full of gusto and angst as the quintet take it up a notch or two and you can’t but help thinking some of the plaster might be coming off the walls as the cacophonous sound reverbs and bounces off wall, floor and ceiling. Different song I know but you get the picture.

Big is bombastic and frenetic from the off. It’s a battle cry confined within the four walls as even bigger drums from the mightily impressive Coll and that thunderous bass give it a riotous non-conforming two minutes as Grian releases the anger and energy of a youthful Iggy Pop.

Dublin City Sky reaches a new level tonight. This song could have been written when stuck behind bars and pining for that beautiful landscape and imagery of the Fair City. A pensive Grian accompanied by his band of merry men singing and reflecting on the gentrification of the city while dedicating their songs tonight to the homeless. Chatten sings achingly as “it all makes sour to watch my lover wrap her arms around the flag of power”. The deathly silence that follows the conclusion of the song is usually accompanied by vociferous applause but given tonight’s location the silence is even more powerful and it really is goosebumps stuff.

Concluding with the no nonsense anthemic Boys In The Better Land the band return to full throttle with the double pronged attack of Curley and O’Connell doing battle head on. Chatten furiously spewing his lyrics out in tandem with the motorik Tom Coll and mesmerising bass lines of Deegan that reverberate through your body even though you’re not in the same room as him. And that’s your lot. No time to breathe, no time to think. No goodbyes. The lights go out, the door is slammed shut on our access to the band and you’re left sat there with your own thoughts and feelings.

It’s interesting that a very young U2, poised to take over the world, performed and recorded a video for the single A Celebration in Kilmainham Gaol when they were at that crossroads in their career before breaking through and moving to the next phase on a bigger scale. It feels like this could be a break out moment for Fontaines D.C. too.

Their first album was fresh and won over an army of critics. Their second album, A Hero's Death, based on the singles we’ve heard, is sure to elevate them to the next level. Gigs like this one, free to air, showing adventure and with a lot of exposure, are sure to give the band a further leg up the ladder to the very top where they are clearly destined. For now we have to be content with live webcast performances with no audience but it won’t be long before Fontaines D.C. are playing sold out shows again, wowing the public and cementing their place as one of Ireland’s greatest bands.

Fontaines D.C.'s official site can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.

Donations to Focus Ireland can be made here.

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