- 22 Dec 18
The Boys In The Better Band
According to the recent and much discussed article on (not in) the NME, “Ireland Is The New Home Of Punk”. Putting aside the blanket use of a term like “punk” –such nomenclature is only useful for sorting records on shelves anyway – it’s a welcome bit of exposure shone in the direction of Irish bands, and they quite rightly put Fontaines D.C. at the top of the new heap.
It was there from the release of their first single, ‘Liberty Belle’, back in 2017. The none-more-Dublin accent in singer Grian Chatten’s Mark E. Smith by way of Lou Reed by way of Luke Kelly drawl. The frenzied bang and clatter going on behind him. They reminded you of your favourite bands yet the managed to sound pretty unique. As other singles followed it became clear that they had a proper thought out aesthetic too, from their cover art featuring Dublin “characters” like Bang, Bang and Johnny Fortycoats to the t-shirts modelled on a packet of Carrolls Number Ones to the sound itself. It’s the kind of approach that made people fall in love with bands like The Smiths and Suede. It means a lot although it would mean fuck all if the music wasn’t up to it, but there’s no such problem here. This year’s ‘Boys In The Better Land’ is not just the best recent Irish single; it’s up there with anything new I’ve heard in the last twelve months. And then you go to see them play…
The consensus was get into the Button Factory early. Securing a press ticket was tricky too – not due to any reluctance on the band’s part, I hope, but because everyone wanted in. The place is packed well in advance of the Fontaines’ arrival. That aesthetic I was on about extends to the warm up music too. Compulsive Gamblers’ raucous, howling ‘The Way I Feel About You’ and ‘Head On’ by The Jesus And Mary Chain mixed with Damien Dempsey’s ‘Colony’ and Luke Kelly telling us the ‘Schoolday’s Over’ – it’s as appropriate a summing up of The Fontaines’ sound as it’s possible to offer without playing one of their own records. Dempsey and Kelly prove especially welcome to this crowd who roar along, glasses raised.
Bastardised Eddie Cochran riffing heralds ‘Chequeless Reckless’ before the bass and drums crash in, guitarist Carlos O’Connell – please tell me that’s his real name – appears to have rubber legs. To throw their own line back at them, they’re what’s really going on, and it’s only the first song. The motorik mutant skank of ‘Sha Sha Sha’ follows; Chatten’s red shirt is already soaked as he pounds the mic stand into the floor. He clutches at it throughout the night as if his life depends on it; it’s both an anchor and a crutch. There’ll be no smooth patter either, beyond the odd “thanks very much” but then again, he doesn’t need it. As he intones after the jackhammer intro to ‘Big’, “I gotta be me”. It’s what makes all the best bands stand out. If you’re thing is copying someone else, then why would you expect anyone to be even half interested?
During ‘Peddlers’, O’Connell makes his first, but not last, attempt to step down into the crowd. Visually the band is divided between him, drummer Tom Coll, and bassist Conor Deegan III – is that Rimbaud on his shirt? – who are all beards and hair, making them look like an infinitely hipper version of Kings Of Leon, and Grattan and Conor Curley, who at least appear to know what the word “barber” means. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but it does.
‘Roy’s Tune’ is a gentler thing, with chords lifted from the Johnny Marr playbook, although Grattan’s declaration that “there is no future” doesn’t ring true, at least going by the evidence presented here. ‘TV Screens’ borrows vocally from Marr’s old mate Morrissey, and the guitars break through powerfully during what, at a push, you could describe as the chorus. The white light bathed breakdown at the song’s end is particularly convincing, but the ferocious kick off to ‘Hurricane Laughter’ is positively feral. It’s like a klaxon exploding, daring you to ignore it. The front half of the audience is now a pulsing, slithering mosh; O’Connell’s moves pouring petrol onto a fire. If “there is no connection available”, nobody told this crowd.
The minor key, almost Joy Division like ‘The Lotts’ slows things back down, giving us a chance to breathe. The roar of approval at the song’s end almost cracks a smile on Grattan’s face. Almost. The ‘Sally MacLennane’ hum off the melody in ‘Dublin City Sky’ owes Shane MacGowan a few bob, although he hardly needs spare cash in December. It’s lovely though, strengthening the connection back to Damo and Luke.
It’s some achievement to make the three-chord trick that powers ‘Boys In The Better Land’ sound fresh but they manage it. If you can imagine a particularly belligerent Brendan Behan crashing a Rolling Stones recording session circa Beggars Banquet, then you’d be close. Single of the year? The competition should have stayed at home.
Grattan storms the stage like one of those oddballs you encounter in the train station late at night, he howls and they’re into ‘Too Real’, O’Connell attacking his guitar with a beer bottle. “I’m about to make a lot of money” Probably. “Is it too real for ya?” Fuck, no. As the band leave the stage in a howl of feedback, you’d almost feel sorry for anyone hiring The Fontaines as a support act. Your show is going to end while you’re still in the dressing room.
“I love that violence that you get around here” sets the crowd off again, the whole floor moving as one. Encores aren’t expected and this one almost teeters over in the best way. By the end of 'Liberty Belle' O’Connell is down in the crowd, still abusing his guitar, dragging stage equipment after him. He probably doesn’t even notice, the grin on his face indicating how lost he is in the moment. He eventually scrambles back to the boards to say thanks and head off.
Four brilliant singles, and an album in the works. Sold out English tours and an upcoming support slot with IDLES in America. The likes of Steve Lamacq falling over themselves to praise them. It’s hard to see this lot dropping the ball. It was one of those gigs that you imagine ten thousand people will claim to have been at this time next year. Lethal, and I suspect they’re only getting started.