- 20 Jul 19
The Eight Legged Midlands Groove Machine. Picture: Zoe Salvucci. Old Man: Pat Carty
The problem with living here in Music City is that there’s nearly too much on. I could have been down in The Underground dancing to the Supertonic Sound Club, I could have been around the corner with my home-from-America cousin Shane throwing shapes to Macy Grey, or I could have been a block or two over in the Whelan’s club house sweating it up with Kevin Morby. Even I have yet to master bilocation, so I picked The Academic, because I think they’re great.
It’s almost exactly a year ago since the band sold out The Iveagh Gardens for the first time, silencing any grumbling that remained after they won that prestigious Rolling Stones in Croker support slot. My amanuensis that night was my teenage daughter, she was excited about seeing the band again but unfortunately took ill this time around. This meant that yours truly had to exercise all his chameleon-like skills so as not to be mistaken for either a narc or a bewildered grandparent searching for his lost charges in this very young crowd. There are as many bottles of Fanta being swigged as there are pints. The boys are jostling each other in time-honoured fashion as a balm against self-consciousness, the girls floating on nervous laughter. That all goes out the window once the band come on.
Straight outta the traps and drowning out the screams with recent single ‘SuperLike’ and The Academic formula is laid out – ringing, slightly eighties guitar driving things along as the verses push each other out of the way to get to the big chorus. Do you know that Sister Sledge song “He’s The Greatest Dancer’? Well they certainly weren’t singing about Craig Fitzgerald. Is there not some Académie de Danse the management could ship him off to for six months? Actually, forget that, there’s something incredibly endearing about his auld lad hopping from foot to foot on a hot beach “moves”. A finishing school would ruin it. His massive grin could light up a coal mine as he leads the crowd through the first of many handclap breakdowns. There’s something of the early Elvis & The Attractions in the intro to ‘Mixtape 2003’ but blink and you’ll miss it because it hurtles into the new wave head rush of ‘I Feel It Too’. These songs appear to have been on the Atkins diet for months, there isn’t a pick of fat on any of them. You can probably hear the crowd singing out the chorus down on O’Connell Bridge.
Fitzgerald thanks us all for showing up before asking for help on an old song. It’s ‘Sometimes’ from the Loose Friends EP. It came out in 2015. My socks are probably older than that. It’s full of perfect guitar lines from Matt Murtagh, a mash-up of early Beatles and The Strokes, complete with closing ‘Hard Day’s Night’ chord. ‘Television’, Permanent Vacation’ and ‘Chasers’ are all more of the same: driving guitar pop that would make even Arlene Foster smile. During the latter, Fitzgerald gets us – the youths, families, auld lads like me, all of us – to hunker down on the ground and then jump up. The place goes apeshit.
After ‘Bite My Tongue’ Craig offers a heartfelt “We’ve kinda grown up with you guys as we make music and we can’t wait to see what happens next” before going into ‘Fake ID’, a song he hopes “doesn’t make sense to me this time next year”. As far as I can see he’s hoping against hope, he still looks about twelve to these ancient eyes. The lights are on, geometric neon swopping between the primary colours, and as the band go through the “Ooh, Ooh, Oh” refrain it occurs to you, not for the first or last time this evening, that The Academic have cracked the code. Like Nirenberg, Khorana, and Holley of old they have unravelled the strands, the DNA of the pop song is theirs to play with. I can only imagine what it’s like in their rehearsal room, they must be laughing and slapping each other on the back the whole time, delighted with songs so infectious that someone should call the CDC.
They’re off at the races now. Fitzgerald collapses to the floor during ‘Thought I Told You’, Dean Gavin gives it a bit of Ringo behind the kit for the great ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ and there’s a bang of early Radiohead off ‘Small Town Lovers’ as a thousand hands sway in the air in time. This is what concerts are supposed to be like. Everyone’s laughng and singing, children are up on parent's shoulders, nobody – apart from me, I suppose – is wasting time chin stroking, wondering what it all means. I wish my daughter were here so I could dance without risking arrest. Here’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’, preceded by a crowd-pleasing blast of ‘Ole, Ole’, just because it’s a great song and it gives Murtagh a chance to jangle away on the guitar and allows him, FitzGerald and his bass playing brother Stephen to try some three part harmonies. After an atmospheric ‘Northern Boy‘, Fitzgerald decides we’re going to have a proper sing-song to finish. There’s no need for him to try teaching the crowd the “Ay! Oh!” bit from ‘Bear Claws’ because everybody knows it already. When the song finishes and the band leave the stage, the crowd continue to howl out this refrain rather than the more traditional shouts for more. Imagine writing a song that sticks in people’s heads like that? I’d be strutting for the rest of my life.
Just in case anyone might think that The Academic had shot their collective bolt with 2018’s big and shiny debut album Tales From The Backseat, the encore starts with a new song ‘Aftertaste’. Their future sounds as bright as their past - there’s some nice action guitar and yet another massive chorus. It kind of reminds you of some of the better recent U2 songs, things like ‘California (There Is No End To Love)’. Of course that song is from five years ago, and didn’t The Academic describe a song from 2014 as “old” earlier on? Whatever, time moves differently when you’re antediluvian, they’ll find out. They finish with two diamonds from their embarrassment of riches, ‘Girlfriend’ - which the crowd recognise from one chord - and ‘Different’. “I can’t put into words how beautiful tonight has been” says Fitzgerald. You can see what he means.
Recently, I cornered young Craig at some showbiz do and bemoaned the fact that his band weren’t taken more seriously because they’re perhaps seen as too “pop” as if that’s some sort of dirty word. He nodded politely although I’m sure he doesn’t give a damn and nor should he. The punters are singing going out the gate. If I could bottle what The Academic have, I take it round to every po-faced band in the land and sell it for a premium. I'd then go and live on a beach, secure in the knowledge that there’s a risus sardonicus on the face of Irish rock n’ roll. Fantastic.