Fontaines DC’s regular homecoming concerts sparkle. In a packed out Vicar Street, in front of a monstrous wall of speakers, some decorative flowers, a huge ‘Fontaines DC’ sign and a prominently placed tricolour, this rumblingly intense outfit rip through song after song of inspired by the charismatic corner of Dublin just outside the venue. This, the opening night of three, you feel, could be the opening night of five, or eight, or ten, if they only wanted it to be.
From ‘Liberty Belle’, to “I love that violence that you get around here…”, to “he spits out Brits out, only smokes Carrolls,” Grian Chatten’s poetic brand of punk poetry is firmly embedded in the distinctive feel of The Liberties, and in Vicar Street it’s found a natural and poignant home.
Chatten himself is sensational. Like a half cut, meandering circus ringleader, he dominates the stage, strutting and hollering, whipping his disciples into greater feats of frenzy as, by four songs in, he compels a bout of crowd surfing that reaches the very back of what suddenly feels like an intimate venue.
Fontaines sets of today have a flow. Three albums in, it’s tough to think of a song in their back catalogue that could be dismissed as being even mediocre, but the choices made in this 19 song medley are smart ones: from the rumbling early shout-along intensity of the likes of ‘Sha Sha Sha’, to the downbeat and fuzzy ‘Television Screens’. The opening half a dozen tracks are plodding by Fontaines standards, which puts them at around an 8 on a scale of pulsating, moody intensity.
This is the Skinty Fia tour, and that means a lot of the set is drawn from the brusk new-ish record. ‘Big Shot’ and ‘Jackie Down The Line’ stand out live, while ‘How Cold Love Is’ is an obvious favourite of the band, prompting private on-stage sing-alongs from the axe-swingers on either side of Chatten as they strum away.
Down the front it’s little short of chaos, something everyone on stage, bar Chatten, seems oblivious to. Conor Deegan’s bass is a distinctive mood in itself, and the twin guitars of Conor Curley and Carlos O’Connell wrap around each other in a kind of mercurial, aching lament, all of which is on-point and floor-shakingly full on, but still feels like something of a side-show next to Chatten’s growing status as an utterly supreme frontman.
The set is grindingly potent, punctuated by some full-on strobe lighting, but it’s a couple of tracks that almost qualify as old classics now that really send it into the stratosphere. The band revert to their Dogrel days, mostly, for the final few songs, a move that largely mirrors most of the tour so far, but feels, tonight, like a knowing nod to their roots.
‘Too Real’ is a thundering shout-along moment, and it’s echoed in ‘A Hero’s Death’ two tracks with t-shirt-slogan worthy refrains: “Life Ain’t Always Empty” and “Is It Too Real For
Ya” echo from the walls without any need for the band at all.
Fontaines DC are so consistently superb live that it’s hard to try and pick holes, but if we have to, we’d have liked another two or three songs, and perhaps the beautiful pace change that comes with their relatively hidden gem, debut album closer ‘Dublin City Sky’, or the barrage of vibrato stylings that is ‘Hurricane Laughter’. But it’s a sign of how far Fontaines have come that you’re left looking for which parts of their back catalogue are missing; picking holes in something that’s close to perfect.
For an encore, there’s ‘Liberty Belle’ thrown in for the first time on the Skinty Fia tour, unquestionably a nod to that place around the corner. Next to some of the headier bass-driven moments, it -almost qualifies as a pop-tinged break, sat between the manic poetry of ‘Boys In The Better Land’ and ‘Big’ (a song with the feel of self-fulfilling prophecy).
Finally, closer ‘I Love You’ initially seems like an odd choice of farewell, but the fan favourite actually sums this band up beautifully. From almost droning wordplay, it diverges into periods of rapid-fire mania, encapsulating the set’s ‘fast poetry meets faster chaos’ dynamic in a single parting blow.
The band, and Chatten’s lyrics in particular, have become iconic so fast it’s almost remarkable. They’ve created a sound that could only be theirs, and is so intimately descriptive of Dublin’s grittier side that for those of us who long lived just around the corner, their sound feels like home.
Tonight, they picked their moments and rose, slowly, to a ginormous crescendo. For a blissful hour and a half, this show was shudderingly intense and rarely less than brilliant. Best of all, we’ve almost come to expect such highs.