Archive for the ‘ATL’ Category


ATL: Sons & Daughters, Frightened Rabbit & The Lowly Knights live review

May 9, 2009

The third ATL review I’ve done so far, the link on their site is here.

frightened rabbit
Frightened Rabbit


The Lowly Knights are introduced by Gary Lightbody, compere for the evening, as “my favourite band from Belfast”. It’s a bold statement to live up to, but the Knights give it a fair old bash. Whilst they recently suffered by appearing between the technical noise onslaughts of Adebisi Shank and And So I Watch You From Afar, they look much more at home tonight on the Marquee stage. In fact, they seem to be having inordinate amounts of fun, which is just as well since their music is so uplifting. ‘Devotion’, ‘Where Are You Now, Jesus?’ and the raft of new songs sound bright and alive and are delivered with a fervour that is almost religious. They may actually be a Christian band, but if so we’re talking Sufjan Stevens levels of subtlety. There’s still the sneaking suspicion that the sprawling line-up (there’s 10 of them tonight) is a bit unnecessary – do they really need a drummer AND a percussionist? – but the ‘choir’ is sensibly stripped down to three and the instrumentation – including at various points a cello, mandolin, oboe and double bass – augment the songs beautifully rather than cluttering them up. They’re may not yet be the finished article, but they’re certainly getting there.

From the sacred to the profane, as the extremely sweary – but sweet – Frightened Rabbit appear to a heroes’ welcome. On their previous visits to Belfast, they’ve been intense, serious and even a bit strung-out on stage, but tonight frontman Scott Hutchison is positively glowing with positive energy, flashing his rapier wit at every opportunity – not least when a fan from their home town of Selkirk throws a scrawled-on T-shirt on stage and is met with bemused ridicule. When it comes to the songs, however, the jokes are left behind. Hutchison’s heartbroken lyrics are red-raw and he positively howls them out over the swirling guitars and boneshaking drums, particularly on ‘Square 9’, ‘The Modern Leper’ and the desperately sad ‘My Backwards Walk’. By the end, you feel battered and bruised, but strangely energised from having withstood the full force of the Scots’ folk-flecked fury. It’s a cathartic experience.

So how do you follow that? You can’t. Or, at least, Sons & Daughters can’t. Not so long ago, they were one of the most exciting new bands in Britain, but on this evidence their best days are behind them. That brooding, sexy mixture of gothic country, blues and spiky rock has been replaced by something disappointingly mundane. Latest album This Gift is a polished effort, but this band never used to be about polish. And the live show makes the point with searing clarity – older songs like ‘Johnny Cash’, ‘Taste The Last Girl’ and the dark and dangerous ‘Rama Lama’ are so much more exciting than newer efforts such as ‘Iodine’, ‘Darling’ and ‘House In My Head’ that it’s almost embarrassing, and the set drags as a result. At one point, David Gow stands on his kick drum to lead the clapping, but it comes across as the act of a desperate man. Whatever it was that made this band interesting has all but gone. Let’s hope it returns before it’s too late.


ATL: Cutaways & Boathouse live review

October 9, 2008

The second ATL review I’ve done to date, and a quote from it has sat on Cutaways’ MySpace page ever since. 🙂 It’s on the ATL site here.



What with the relentless rain and approximately 57 other credible gig alternatives in Belfast tonight, Cutaways could have chosen better when they booked their EP launch. But somehow, defying all expectations, the magnificent (and underused as a gig venue) Empire is respectably full from early in the night, damp bodies standing to attention for each of the four bands.

After two promising newcomers in Yes Cadets and Strait Laces, Boathouse come on and go straight for the throat. They will never be the coolest of bands, but music this honest and heartfelt rarely is. They invest every inch of their souls into these heart-bursting anthems, frontman Gerry McCrudden in particular giving of himself entirely in trying to communicate with his audience. The contrast between his timid between-song chat and the pure power of his soaring voice is marked. However, although you get the sense that they are at times aiming for Arcade Fire levels of transcendence, they never quite get there. Muddy sound doesn’t help and a few of the songs are a touch below par, but there is an enjoyable band here. On another night, they could be great.

In complete contrast to the passionate Big Music of Boathouse, headliners Cutaways deal in bright colours, fast tempos and hooks aplenty. From Paul McIvor’s quite ridiculous attire and Grace McMacken’s fluorescent keyboard stand to the huge cardboard chicks adorning the stage, you know instantly what to expect. And it is striking how different the band looks and sounds compared to a couple of years ago. Then a four piece with a bassist, the band dealt in fizzing, guitar-driven power pop. Now, shorn of bass player Chris McCorry and previous keyboardist Angie McCrisken, the yelped, boy/girl voices and Ryan Simpson’s kinetic drumming come to the fore. Paul and Grace’s vocal interplay recalls Los Campesinos! in its excitable call-and-response, while the buzzing synth basslines lock into the drums to create a herky-jerky danceability.

Boathouse’s dodgy sound is carried into Cutaways’ opening song, and fears rise that the gig will be ruined, but the problems are sorted out and the band quickly hit their stride. All four EP songs are aired, ‘I Spilled Your Drink So You Broke My Heart’ being an early highlight, but the two key songs end up being the unrivalled highlights of the night, from any of the bands. Other acts would sell their grannies for either the riff or the chorus of the delirious ‘Weapon Of Choice’, while ‘Lovers Are Lunatics’ – played second-last – is given the treatment it deserves, as a pair of nifty hand puppets shake and jig from behind the props. On first listen, the song can sound disjointed, but live the momentum is there as Paul, Grace and Ryan drive you through the myriad hooks until you reach that soon-to-be-iconic chorus. The song is good enough to define the band (previous incumbent ‘Sixteen’ having been dropped from the set) and should have been the closer. The song that follows means the set ends as it started, by underwhelming. But it doesn’t detract from a joyous, riotously fun performance by a band that has embraced pop music and is determined to twist it into exciting new shapes.


ATL: And So I Watch You From Afar live review

February 2, 2008

This is the first review I did for ATL, and I ended up writing most of it the morning after, hungover, in work. ATL deadlines show no mercy! It’s up on their site here.

ASIWYFA Limelight
Pic by Graham Smith


These four destroyers from the Causeway coast sure know how to create an event. Following on from their ‘Tonight The City Burns’ collaborative gig and EP late last year, they’re curating four more major Belfast shows in 2008. This, the first, sees them joined by Frenchmen Papier Tigre, north coast hombres Panama Kings and Derry’s finest, Fighting With Wire. All are excellent, and the excitement is palpable as the lights go down for ASIWYFA‘s headline set. They’ve come a long way in the last couple of years. When they first appeared, their four-piece post rock drew just a little too heavily from Mogwai and Explosions in The Sky. Fine influences of course, but ASIWYFA lacked a little in individuality and the art of putting on a show. That’s all history now though, as the last few shows the band has done have been nothing short of breathtaking in their power and showmanship.

Strangely enough the gig starts a little flat, almost as if the band is too willing to impress. ‘Clench Fists, Grit Teeth… Go!’, sounds frantic and ragged and a new song doesn’t quite hit the mark. As they head towards the meat of the set though, it all starts to fall into place. Another new song sees the band head further into the math rock direction indicated by ‘Clench Fists…’. Beginning with guitarist Rory Friers tapping out a melody, the rhythms and guitar work recall Belfast’s We Are Knives. All neck-snapping, clean riffs and Chris Wee’s virtuoso drumming, it’s another step forward for the band. Thereafter, ASIWYFA launch into a triple whammy the like of which no other band in Northern Ireland can match. ‘I Capture Castles’ – the first track on the mini-album – is monumental, and it’s followed up by the equally seismic ‘The Machine’. And then to round things off, the glorious ‘The Voiceless’ slays with Tony Wright’s beautiful picking holding the whole thing together.

The band shuffle offstage and the still-large crowd (at 12.45am) bay for more. As they return, Rory sheepishly says that they hadn’t planned an encore, but would play a song again so we can all “fucking rock out”. It’s ‘Clench Fists…’ and this time they absolutely nail it. With grins as wide as the Bann, Rory, Tony and man mountain bassist Johnny thrash around the stage to the crushing riffs and time changes, sounding for all the world like they won’t be long for this scene. This band is already massive in sound and presence. Trust us, this is only the beginning.

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