- 20 Dec 18
The Stars Of The County Down
The first thing you notice as Downpatrick’s most famous sons, apart from perhaps “funny man” Patrick Kielty, take the stage is Tim Wheeler’s rather marvellous moustache and shirt combo. He looks like he should be nodding at you while he cleans the glasses behind the bar on the Love Boat, as you tell him all your troubles. Fantastic. Straight down to business and no messing with opener ‘True Story’, one of the better tracks from this year’s well-received Islands album before Wheeler, who still looks a lot younger than his forty-one years, the bastard, straps on his Flying V for a suitably arse kicking ‘Kung Fu’. Can it really be twenty-two years since 1977 was released? Its Chi is still strong, and Wheeler gives it a nice Hendrix/Van Halen finish.
‘Cocoon’ from 2015’s Kablammo! keeps the trash going and Rick McMurray offers a mighty floor tom thump behind ‘Annabel’. He attacks the drums throughout like they make a disparaging comment about his Ma. You can’t go wrong with a song as great as ‘Oh Yeah’, and they don’t – beautiful tremolo guitar under the verses, oohs and aahs, and aching solo and a false ending. I wouldn’t be crazy about the bouncy pop of ‘Confessions In The Pool’ with McMurray channelling Clem Burke, but it’s followed by ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, which makes everything ok. Even better are the dragging chords of ‘Goldfinger’ – Wheeler waiting for his girl in the basement with some records and a bottle of wine, what more could anyone ask for?
‘Walking Barefoot’ brings summer to December, but ‘Shining Star’ is something else again. Anyone compiling one of those best Irish singles ever lists would have to count this one somewhere near the top, if only for that glorious key change. It won an Ivor Novello award back in the day. Proper order.
‘All That I Have Left’ and ‘Incoming Waves – with McMurray giving it a bit of glockenspiel, the hero – from the new album take us to ‘Orpheus’, a song that sports the kind of dirty riff that would steal your pint as it laughs in your face, and you’d let it. They spot a Star Wars jumper in the audience so give us a few minutes of the Cantina Band theme from the original movie (1977, etc.). The wall of wah-wah in ‘Jesus Says’ kicks things back into gear before another diversion as bassist Mark Hamilton, who must have graduated at the top of his class from Peter Hook University, serenades us with a bit of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’. He makes Wheeler sound like Pavarotti.
The coruscating ‘Numbskull’ and ‘Buzzkill” kick the living fuck out of everything in front of them, it’s the sound of a gang of bastards gleefully hurling a Zanussi through a stained glass window. ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’ finish out the main set. Imagine being in a band and coming up with stuff like this? The sardine tight crowd go mental, as they should.
‘Did Your Love Burn Out?’ might not be the strongest encore opener, but ‘Angel Interceptor’ hasn’t an ounce of fat on it. Hamilton manages to break the bass he’s been using for twenty years, but no matter, he replaces it and then goes down into the crowd to play, nailing it down solid no matter the tool or the location. ‘Uncle Pat’ gets the joyous reception you would expect, and the nod to another great pop band from the North of the island cover of ‘Teenage Kicks’ is perfectly fitting – Damien O’Neill and Mickey Bradley helped out on the ‘Buzzkill’ single. Things finish out with ‘Lose Control’ and a bit of karaoke for ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ because, you know, it’s Christmas, everyone’s having a good time, so why not? Near perfect singles with cast-iron choruses. A ferocious noise coming for a three-piece. A crowd not taking no for an answer. To paraphrase their beloved Star Wars, this was the gig we were looking for. Brilliant.