- Live Review
- 17 Apr 23
The Irish feminist punks tore the house down at their sold out Dublin homecoming (for four of them) on Saturday night. Blood, swear and tears: M(h)aol brought it all and more.
Much has happened since the last time I saw M(h)aol perform. A debut album, headline tour and Rough Trade publishing deal spring to mind, but their sense of purpose has always felt tangible. Having witnessed the quintet support Gilla Band at the National Stadium in December, it's hardly surprising that the Irish punks seem more at ease on the Workman's Club stage last weekend. Performing intensely personal, transgressive (though they shouldn't be) songs to a room full of people waiting to see a headline act must be incredibly unnerving, but Róisín Nic Ghearailt, Connie Keane, Zoë Greenway, Jamie Hyland and Sean Nolan took it in their stride.
However, attendees at Dublin's Workman's Club - including a Pillow Queen spotted in the front row - were out in full force to experience the magic, rage, love and catharsis of M(h)aol's live shows. There was an undeniable sense of anticipation ahead of the band's final headline show of their Irish tour, following stops in Limerick, Cork and more venues dotted around their homeland. Releasing a debut album brings immense pressure, but M(h)aol aren't one to succumb to that side of the music scene. They take things at their own pace, and refuse to take themselves too seriously onstage - as well as offering their spotlight to others who need it. Of course, the moments of seriousness and pain are all the more powerful when paralleled with their sense of humour.
There's an emphasis on welcoming spaces at their gigs, with the brilliant Safe Gigs Ireland present at each occasion to make sure concert-goers can have as freeing, immersive experience as possible.
Tapping Anie Valentine as their special guests, the Dublin-based alt-pop act were visibly thrilled to debut their tracks to a full Workman's house. Influenced by likes of Hole, Green Day, Pixies, Halsey and Nirvana, the outfit blended 80s power rock and early 2000s punk-pop together for a riotous sound, much enjoyed by the crowd as they nursed pints ahead of the main act.
The band have been performing since 2020, playing a headline slot at The Next Big Thing festival, a support slot at the Whelan's We've Only Just Begun Festival, and opening the Whelan's Ones to Watch festival on the main stage. Their debut single 'Ending Things' landed in April 2022, followed by 2023's 'Boys'. With her envy-inducing electric blue guitar, frontwoman Anie effortlessly shows off stage presence and charisma beyond her years. Lead guitarist Matthew Redmond, drummer Chloe Corcoran Hanlon, and Jordan Crawford on bass - alongside Anie - all attend BIMM Dublin, becoming fast friends at the music school. Keep an eye out for more Paramore-esque singles this year from the quartet.
Before M(h)aol ascended to the stage, Daire Dempsey - Education Officer for the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI) - delivered an introductory speech encouraging support for both trans kids and trans adults during a time filled with global turbulent attacks on their rights.
"From social media, the news and organised far-right, we're seeing attacks on trans young people, we're seeing attacks on trans women; on schools and libraries that are just trying to support us and do best by trans people in Ireland. We really need your support and for us to come together and make Ireland a better place for us - and by extension, for everybody, I hope. Support trans kids. Support trans adults. Hold each other close and stick by one another, because things are getting weird out there and we need to be conscious of that. Lastly, ghost a pop-punk boy today..." he laughs, referencing M(h)aol's possibly most famous merch item - the tote bag as seen on Phoebe Bridgers at SXSW, Texas.
Without further ado, the aforementioned five-piece arrive, their excitement palpable from the stage. Róisín hugs Daire, checks in with her bandmates and the noise begins. 2015 single 'Clementine' and Attachment Styles track 'Therapy' kick off the set, setting the tone for an evening that pulls no punches. Nic Ghearailt is mesmerising to watch as she uses movement to hit every lyric home, "You know you really fucked me up, I don't think that you care / I should bill you for my therapy but I don't want your name on there," she declares, the audience soaking up every word.
The light-hearted album addition explores healing in spite of people in your life who don't turn up to therapy, despite creating issues for those around them. She interacts seamlessly with her bandmates, grinning at Jamie and Zoë - who's wearing slightly haunting contact lenses that become instantly terrifying when a crowd member insults her native Cork; the pair dressed like an angel and devil by her side in white and black respectively.
Connie explains the inspiration behind album track 'Kim', which was penned following the death of her beloved Jack Russell of the same name who lived a lengthy life in punk fashion. "Kim, Kim, Kim, Kim / Kim is a punk-type dog / Dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs / Dog's a full-time job!" Róisín sings, immortalising the pet forever into public life.
The sonics of M(h)aol's debut album were in part crafted by bassist and producer Jamie Hyland, who brings the same screeching, industrial guitar wails and atmospheric, almost-cinematic element to the live stage. This can be heard thrillingly on eerie back catalogue single 'Laundries', which was crafted as a brooding response to Ireland's grim Magdalene Laundries - and later, Direct Provision centres. Brooding riffs, gripping lyrics, crashing percussion and distorted fuzz fuel the relentless mood, as the song acknowledges “the shame of our secrets / the stain of our days”.
Shedding light on the uncomfortable truth behind the brutal religious institutions, the last of which closed its doors in October 1996; M(h)aol also insist that Ireland has changed immensely since the Marriage Equality and Repeal referendums that spurred them onwards. Their music is a direct product of their empathy during these personal periods of activism.
"And history repeats / We know it well / We’ve fallen in love / With a new God's spell / A decade and a half is never enough / Sometimes these cases need a woman's touch," Róisín concludes, before lightening the mood by holding up her triangle instrument dangling precariously from a hair bobbin on her wrist. "Run, don't walk, to the merch stand to get your triangles!" she laughs, mentioning her (seemingly lifetime) ban from Whelan's. What did she do to deserve such a fate? I guess we'll never know.
"How many of you have had a situation in the smoking area upstairs?" she asks the crowd, grinning. At least 67% of the audience clearly have had *experiences* in Workman's with the softboi community (SBC) - most of the band included, so they've come full circle by selling out the place as a feminist punk band. A proud Gaeilgeoir, Nic Ghearailt next introduces a down-tempo, serene yet engrossing rendition of 'Óró sé do bheatha abhaile', which sees Jamie, Zoë and Róisín bathed in red light at the end.
It winds down the pace slightly, before tongue-in-cheek anthem 'No One Ever Talks To Us' kicks things into gear again. Taken from the band’s debut EP Gender Studies, which dropped on October 29th 2021, the track is an amalgamation of M(h)aol's own personal experiences of being in a predominantly female band in a predominantly male genre.
"It's also a synthesis of the autobiographical experiences of Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, and how so often your value in this industry is based on whether the (men) around you find you attractive," Róisín said at the time of the track's release. Using a monotonous vocal tone to push the point home, the final chorus sees full use of all guitar power for the track's captivating finale. "...and we wrote it about the shit men at Workman's!" the frontwoman smiles.
Next up is their debut EP title track 'Gender Studies', 'Femme' and 'I'm So Bored'. Exploring sexuality, the performance of gender and patriarchy, Nic Ghearailt's clever wordplay and compassionate approach to excavating taboo topics shines bright in this section. The audience get equally involved, belting 'I'M! SO! BORED! (of talking about men)" back to her. "Look at the news, is it that time again? When's our chance to move on and heal? I just can't believe that shit is real."
Sarcastic belter 'Nice Guys' gets the crowd laughing, with the repetition and driving guitar lines melding with hypnotic drum beats for a sing-a-long about the orgasm gap: "Nice guys always finish last...But I did not finish at all." It also features one of Nic Ghearailt's favourite lyrics (allegedly): "I said I am bisexual / I said I'm not trisexual / As in, don't try anything sexual with me."
Introducing the band, the Bristol-based Shankill native gets emotional, emphasising the unbreakable bond between the five-piece that survived hiatus and moving between five different cities. She gives metaphorical flowers to videographer and visual artist Zoë for her vibrant album designs, merch and video clips; Jamie's jaw-dropping production, Connie's band management skills and belief in the band and Sean's (inter)national man of mystery credentials. Róisín also thanks the support of their family, many of whom are in the front row. It's a moving moment in the set that the crowd feel lucky to witness in such an intimate setting.
The trifecta final tracks of 'Period Sex', 'Bisexual Anxiety' and 'Jack Douglas' end M(h)aol's headliner on a high note. "Is Dublin the bi capital of Ireland? Or Cork?" Róisín asks the diverse audience, which results in a defiant cheer in the affirmative from the Workman's gig-goers. 'Bisexual Anxiety' was written by the lyricist as an ode to anyone figuring out their sexuality, to feel comfortable in themselves and shed the shame. 'Period Sex', meanwhile, is an infectiously catchy, sultry track that nods to pleasure in all its forms, without specifying gender. The five-piece seem to enjoy every moment of performing this one in particular, remarking to the crowd, "If this song makes you uncomfortable, maybe ask yourself why."
It's hard to see how anyone could attend a M(h)aol gig and simply wallow in discomfort: feminist punks know how to have fun. Make sure you catch one of their headline shows in the UK or Ireland while they're in rooms this size, it won't stay that way for long at the rate they're going.
Revisit M(h)aol's recent interview with Hot Press here.
Listen to Attachment Styles below.
- Live Review
- 11 Sep 23