Bleeding Heart Pigeons at Whelan’s Upstairs, Dublin, 12th March 2016
Am-dram church hall, or secret attic hidden in a labyrinth of be-postered corridors and dark wooden corners? Opinions on Whelan’s Upstairs venue depend on your perspective (and proximity to the bar) – but tonight, as a largely black-clothed crowd eagerly gather before the red velvet stage curtains, the atmosphere is one of gleeful anticipation. Bleeding Heart Pigeons are here to launch their debut album ‘Is’, and it feels like we’ve been let in on the secret. Hailing from rural Limerick, the trio started out rehearsing in a parent’s shed. Whelan’s Upstairs may not be much larger than that, but a sell out crowd and a blistering set mean that the shed days are over for Bleeding Heart Pigeons – they won’t be playing a venue this small again.
As an aperitif, support band Other Creatures draw the audience forward with their blend of swaggering lyrics and textural changes, cutting between exposed vocals and layers of instrumentals; before Bleeding Heart Pigeons appear round the curtains, moving seamlessly from sound check to Frozen. As the track picks up pace, Mícheál Keating’s vocals have a touch of the Guy Garvey about them, like molasses sliding across a warm spoon of synth and sampled bird song. Oh Happy Happy Happy provokes a cheer of recognition from the crowd, heads nodding along with Keating’s as he bends over his guitar, intonations of “twisting and turning, and twisting and turning” folding in neatly with Cathal Histon’s concentrated synth bleeps.
The band have drawn inevitable comparisons with early Radiohead, but as tonight proves, they give so much more. Anything You Want begins with ticking drumbeat and exposed vocals, before breaking down into a very prog-rock guitar solo over sustained, deliberately flat synth. It’s great to see a young band unafraid to experiment, and seemingly unconcerned about fitting into genre-defining categories – indeed they seem coolly taken aback by the warmth of reaction. As calls of “Hon Limerick!” ring out, Keating self-deprecatingly admits that it’s “weird for us to play to people that actually want to see us”, before launching into They’re Cutting Down the Old Oak Tree, a song “we were playing when I was like, 16, and you were like, 15, and you were like, 16”. On the second half of the track all three join in harmony, suffusing the room with vocal sunlight before moving straight into In The Forest, the latest single. It’s a high point of the set, underlying drums anchoring fading synth and disparate vocals.
Sister and Dancer take the pace down a notch. On the latter, drummer Brendan McInerney joins on synth, producing a heavy layered, organlike effect, melding with metal slide guitar and languorous vocals. It’s a bit shoegazey and the momentum gathered thus far is somewhat lost as the band spirals off into further experimentation with Song With No Meaning. If these three were scattered throughout the set, it might work better. Luckily, the up-tempo lead single A Hallucination reinvigorates the room with its hop-skip vocals and insistent guitar riff, softening into a grandiose slow-mo swirl of screaming guitar and oscillating synth to end out the set – or not. Having declared it their last song, the band disappear for all of two seconds – a brief and muffled discussion of “will we play that one?” resulting in a slightly rushed rendition of Isn’t It Funny which leaves the crowd on a high. Bleeding Heart Pigeons have made their mark on Dublin – and the secret is out.
Featured image from previous show, 7th December 2013