Fontaines DC slay virtual show at Brixton O2 Academy
So you are a band and you’re good. Very good. Knockout in fact and you have just released your sophomore album after a year that almost saw you crash and burn before you even got started. In a year when the world is experiencing an unprecedented pandemic and the UK is sliding in and out of strict national lockdown, there are no gigs, no tours, no adulation, no gratification, no much needed reassurance that you’re good, very good, knockout. So what do you do? With venues deemed as “places of work” and musicians needing to ply their trade, you play. Not to a heaving mass but to an empty room, with cameras dotted around, beaming live to a virtual audience. This is the new world of the ‘Virtual Gig’ – social-distancing writ large – and this is Ireland’s Fontaines D.C at Brixton O2 Academy.
So, no queues to negotiate at the entrance or the bar, no jostling for space amid the eager crowd. Just an app (MelodyVR) and a code and you are in, stage left, or stage right, or stage centre or front of house. Eye in the sky or fly on the wall, no craning to catch a glimpse of the Dublin four-piece, they are there for your delectation, unhindered and unobstructed. And because this is a virtual experience, you can move the device you are hooked in on (in this case a tablet) and circumnavigate the whole venue. Where there should be people there is empty space, the vast floor of this iconic venue blinks with lights scattered around for effect rather than with the translucent glints of plastic pint glasses and their jettisoned contents amongst a sweaty throng. And you realise that this barrenness is what the band sees, and what the band feels.
With plenty of uninterrupted space for the sound to occupy, the tracks take on a different type of energy. Opener ‘A Lucid Dream’ billows out Doors-ey jazz-inflected psych rock, that even remotely is immersive but when the song finishes there is a stark silence. The emergent thrum of an expectant crowd is absent and the sense is of a glorified sound check. Technically, switching between camera views causes a 1 second delay so rather than interrupt ‘Televised Mind’s’ bowel-shuddering descent the Track cam is the choice going forward which “tracks” the band across the stage.
‘I Don’t Belong’ is huge, Conor Deegan III’s bass bounces boulder like around the venue, but the music is crying out for absorption, for symbiosis, for something for the sinewy guitars to wrap themselves around and give them purpose. It makes vocalist Grian Chatten’s thick Irish proclamation that “there is no connection available” on a ferocious ‘Hurricane Laughter’ from debut album ‘Dogrel’ so much more poignant. The singer, predominantly stationary throughout the set, paces around demented as the track builds in intensity. This is rock and roll with the wires being pulled out; frayed edges and blown minds.
Midway through the set, the tenderness born from ennui of ‘You Said’ and the poetic reflection of ‘Oh Such A Spring’ add light to shade. But it’s the big hitters that everyone needs right now. ‘A Hero’s Death’ from their latest album of the same name has guitarist Carlos O’Connell reclined minstrel like on one of the amps in his zebra-patterned shoes as Chatten’s “Life ain’t always empty” lyrics take on a new resonance amidst pounding noise and ‘Boys In The Better Land’, a highlight from their debut album which channels the band as gang mentality of Thin Lizzy in perfect 3 chord punk. “If you’re a rock star, porn star, superstar. Doesn’t matter what you are. Get yourself a good car, get out of here” are lyrics to live and die for.
In another life their debut release ‘Liberty Belle’ would be incendiary, like pouring petrol on a fire and seeing the whole room go up in flames. But it’s the here and now and we are left with a deep yearning to be back in that room, to experience those precious, life-affirming moments that live music gives you, watching a band providing the soundtrack to your life and igniting that fire in your soul. In their performance tonight, Fontaines D.C. remind you that live music is a religion and they are the preachers and how we long to be back in those hallowed places of worship.
Music obsessive and father of three. Compensating for the toil of the daily grind by living a diluted rock star life through reviewing and gig-going. Brought up on the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and forever caught up in the myth behind the legend.