How many new music nights does Dublin need? An anarchist might say as many as you can get away with. A capitalist, as many as you need to maximise profit (probably none). For Keiron Black who curates – or in his own words “facilitates” – the new music night in Whelan’s on a Tuesday night, the amount of talent in a city is the defining factor of how many musical showcases it should hold.
As the man behind The King Kong Club and The Sunday Roast in the Mercantile he clearly believes in the city’s capacity to collect and display homegrown musical acts. Harbouring a deep and palpable passion for music, Keiron came of age in Seattle in the late ’80s, and crossed paths with many of the icons of that city’s music scene, from jamming with Kim Thayil in friends’ houses to drinking beer with Layne Staley. Standard. But it wasn’t until he arrived in Dublin about fifteen years ago that he began to realise just how penetrating grunge music became across the western world. He sees the same atmosphere and talent that was taking over Seattle in those days popping up in the Dame district today.
To celebrate Blue Moon’s sponsorship of the new music night in Whelan’s, he has the task of putting together a line-up to prove his theory. Opening the night’s entertainment is Waterford hard rockers We The People. With a standard five-man setup, their music is loud and certainly not without its charms. In a rather generic genre of music they do manage to experiment in the songwriting department, leaning more towards the funky side of rocking, not unlike the latest Arctic Monkeys record.
It’s clear that they’re fully aware what their best songs are too, as the set starts off well and gets better. It culminates near its end with Voodoo, a particularly engaging piece of music that takes the standard hard rock form to its creative limit. The great sound in the upstairs venue also benefits the set with a prominent bassline throughout pinning down the melody perfectly. Second act of the night Donal Quinn is something of a revelation. Hailing from Drogheda, he claims Jamiroquai as an influence, which may be considered rather unhip in a musical environment that is largely split between the school of 1967 pop rehashes and that of 1983 post-punk. But when he stands there channelling the Londoner’s ethos via a danceable ’60s optimism and accompanied by the ’70s funk bassline and virtuosic drumming of his band, any pretensions as a listener fade away.
Quinn is the kind of artist that justifies the existence of these nights, acts who, whether for reasons of time, money or geography, haven’t quite gotten around to making a name for themselves, but arrive with a sound fully formed. Each of his songs are as groovy and danceable as each other, yet manage to retain their individuality, with subtle tonal differences, going for an almost disco sound with Which Way Is Up and bordering on Curtis Mayfield soul at times. So by now the Blue Moon is flowing freely, the music is beyond satisfying and any envy one might have for the Damien Rice fans in the main venue has just about evaporated. At this stage you’d be content to be humoured and vaguely entertained by whatever band arrives next. Adela & The Meanits have no such complacent intentions. Their sound is a tight mixture of rockabilly, gothic pop and an almost Velvet Underground-style electric violin that howls over the Americana bassline like a shroud. Again, they’re an act with a fully developed sound, but here the songs are more distinct from one another than are those of any of the other acts tonight.
Kinda Wild best captures all three of the above-mentioned characteristics, but Daddy’s Girl is more like a country rag, that violin squealing just enough to make it endearingly noisy, while Party For Three sees Adela adopting an old “Lon-din” accent, in a kind of early ’60s novelty song. This band also has virtuosos and a huge amount of personality, and with them Keiron seems to have very much proved his point about music in Ireland.
It’s an eclectic lineup and one made up of bands from all over the country. The final band of the night makes its way down from Kildare and with some rather engaging acts to follow, Soldiers Can’t Dance need to put on quite a show to stick in the memory. It quickly becomes apparent that as a live act they have their sights set high, aiming to rival bands like And So I Watch You From Afar and God Is An Astronaut for the crown of Irish high octane live performances. Their sound is a strange mix of indie and post-rock and their performance is energetic and tight. Galloping drums can all of a sudden make way for a subtle tap near the centre of the cymbal, the squalling guitar halts to let the vocal in, so despite the kinetics of the performance there is room for subtlety.
It’s a well balanced performance, and while they may not have the level of individuality and originality shown by the previous two acts, their playing is as brilliant and flawless as Whelan’s saw tonight. It caps off an evening that, in terms of showcasing quality Irish acts, succeeds completely. How many new music nights does Dublin need? Who knows? But this one deserves to stick around.