Empire Circus at Lost Lane, Dublin, 19 July 2019
Empire Circus are a group that have been through all the trials and tribulations that come with being in a band. Starting with the name Stand, earning Irish chart success in the ’90s and relative success in the US, to then break up, change their name and reboot as Empire Circus – all over a plus-20-year period. Now, 2019 is upon us and they are showcasing songs from their first album in six years: ‘Tí’ – their most honest album yet.
Starting the gig off tonight in the cosy seated surroundings of Lost Lane, the Dublin band play a selection of tunes from the new record. The singing pair of Neil Eurelle and Alan Doyle is particularly striking from the start, with Eurelle up in the glistening high notes enriching Doyle’s gorgeous grumbly bellow. They are a band that have lived and learned it all throughout the years and it shows in their accomplished sound. Even in the more sober of times, stripped back with minimal instrumentation, every frequency is filled.
There is a great reception for the slow and contained tracks off ‘Tí’, but it is the tunes from the back catalogue that particularly rile the crowd. Songs like A Day In The Life Of A Superhero and The Living Kind are anthemic in their energetic large sound, while Nature My Mother and Little Sweet Lucifer reveal these contemplative rockers as a band that are capable of immense power and grit.
Nature My Mother, a passive aggressive letter to our personified environment, boasts an unnerving sentiment, one that will only increase in potency as time goes on: “Oh nature my Mother / I can’t see you suffer so I’ll leave / the reasons are so clear / you were too pure for us to keep.” This haunting message is made all the more stunning and disconcerting as the band offer up a mighty outro of thunderous drums and piercing guitar lines, crashing to an epic finish.
While the set tonight consists of straight out rock songs, varying in urgency, there is also a fair few heart-on-your-sleeve ballads dotted throughout. Songs like High Above This Grey There’s Blue and Sometimes I Cry are, as the titles suggest, as honest and fragile as they come. After treating the audience to an encore of REM’s Man On The Moon, in a performance that had a grit and an appeal that REM could dare dream of, the band say goodnight.
During an interview on their behind-the-scenes YouTube documentary Making Tí, singer Neil Eurelle spoke of the fact that two years ago the band were thinking of pulling the plug. What a massive shame that would have been as Empire Circus are a force to be reckoned with on stage and they so clearly love what they are doing.