Ham Sandwich at Whelan’s, Tuesday 15th July 2014
Fresh from supporting Pixies and Arcade Fire in Marlay Park, Ham Sandwich returned to the more familiar climes of Whelan’s on Tuesday night. It was a nostalgia-tinted show for the band, not least because it was to benefit the children of Derek Nally, their former manager and the former booking agent for Whelan’s, without whom “Whelan’s would not be the credible venue it is”, as they succinctly put it.
Ham Sandwich are a band whose live performances are earning them a reputation all of its own. Niamh Farrell, looking for all the world like a ballerina from a Tim Burton movie, and Podge McNamee share an on-stage chemistry that would rival that of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne of Arcade Fire or Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Both of these bands have clearly had an influence on Ham Sandwich’s live format: joyous, slightly shambolic indie-pop, beefed up for the stage.
The five band members are crammed on stage with a keys player and trumpet player. Trumpet features prominently in the opening songs, taking on the melody and really helping the songs along. It was nice to see it used as a lead instrument rather than just to bulk up the sound, which many bands are prone to doing.
Another conceit which is overused at the moment, particularly among female-fronted bands, and which is once again on display tonight is the standalone floor tom, which was possibly used twice, and which added nothing sonically but, admittedly, provided a nice visual focus when Farrell went for it. Gimmicks such as this and the ukulele, which could not be heard despite much fussing over getting it set up, could be left out of a Ham Sandwich gig and it would take nothing away.
Tracks from ‘White Fox’ made up the bulk of the set with nine of the ten featuring. Three songs from their as-yet-untitled third album, to be released “September-ish”, also featured and on the strength of these songs, particularly Cobra, we have a lot to look forward to. Fantastic, high-energy renditions of Keepsake and St Christopher, from their debut album, are both highlights in a night of highlights.
Floors surprisingly drifted into No Surprises by Radiohead and there were two further covers which had mixed results: Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill went nowhere new but Donna Summer’s I Feel Love sent the crowd into raptures and had the whole room bouncing. The recent single Illuminate ended the main set with a warm fuzzy feeling.
There is some confusion as they re-emerge for the encore and it takes them some time to get set up again before they rattle through Words, The Naturist and Ants. Ham Sandwich are in that strange place where they can comfortably support Arcade Fire in Marlay Park and headline the Olympia but they can still manage to seem like a college band finding their feet in Whelan’s on a Tuesday night. Perhaps it’s because of the constant flow of banter from McNamee which veers from hilarious to ridiculous, but they are a band that are easy to love.