In a whole lot of ways, ‘Congregation’ delivers everything you could want from a Kerbdog live album. It burns with a wild youthful energy, blazing like a bonfire that was lit sometime in the mid-nineties and somehow continues to burn just as bright as ever. It is a hard rocking, fun filled reminder of an oft-overlooked Irish rock band that deserved a lot more recognition than they ever received.
In a way ‘Congregation’ also acts as a sly attempt at providing a superfluous greatest hits album. A large selection of tracks comprises most, if not all, the major hits of the Kilkenny band’s two albums. But the thing is that it actually does work as a starting point for a new generation of heavy rock fans who missed Kerbdog the first time around. It’s a collection bursting with life, both in the honest-to-goodness enjoyable live performance and in the sheer whole-hearted intensity of the songs themselves. A newbie coming across ‘Congregation’ with no prior knowledge of Kerbdog could easily be forgiven for assuming this was a heyday recording of a band in their prime, with a handful of classic albums to draw material from.
That the opposite is true is far from evident. Kerbdog released just two albums before splitting in 1998. ‘Congregation’ was recorded in 2012, following a 2005 reunion for a smattering of occasional gigs.
But the album is far from a piece of dreary nostalgia. From the opening splatter of full on rock anthems like On the Turn and Mexican Wave, this is live rock music as a vital experience, enjoyable for something more than just hearing a band you used to like play a song you used to know.
The sound is ultra clean and crisp throughout. The choppy shift from big, chunky riffs to melodic and hook-laden choruses becomes a very welcome pattern that gets repeated again and again. The chugging riffs and unrestrained vocals of Didn’t Even Try and Sally channel teenage angst at its most shouty, while Scram sizzles with razor sharp riff after razor sharp riff. It isn’t hard to see why Biffy Clyro cite Kerbdog as a big influence.
Frontman Cormac Battle is better known as a radio DJ these days, and it’s this persona that comes out on the between song banter that lies somewhere between punkish standoffishness and a nerdy politeness. He can be heard asking the audience to raise their lighters for the wonderfully self-depreciating Sorry for the Record, before changing his mind and asking the venue security if that’d be such a good idea after all. “Are you allowed lighters in venues anymore?” he asks, only to quickly backtrack when he gets told no. It’s the little touches like this that no live album should be without.
It’s actually very possible to get a little miffed listening to ‘Congregation’, to be left wanting a bit more from Kerbdog than two studio albums, the occasional reunion gig, and now this fine live recording (with a single new studio track jammed in at the end, which is also fine).
If Kerbdog are still capable of producing records like this, it’s hard not to wish for them to make a few more of them while they’re at it.