Well, we’re here again – one city, seven venues, over one hundred bands, and a flock of music fans converging either side of the Liffey for another weekend of fine homegrown talent. Hard Working Class Heroes is always a welcome staple in the festival diet, particularly as the seasons turn and opportunities to spend three full-on days catching bands begin to dwindle for another few months. We sent Niall & Justin out about the town to report back on things, here’s what they caught on Thursday’s opening night…

SISTERS

Hangar is playing host to some of the heavier acts to take part in this year’s festivals with the likes of New Valley Wolves and Bitch Falcon on the bill for the relatively new gig venue. First up though are Limerick, Clare “oh, and now Waterford’s” Sisters. The four-piece, who have recently re-located to London, are a tight-knit bunch with flashes of Wolf Alice in their early days evident from the start. Maybe it’s nerves on the band’s part or perhaps a knock-on effect from what is a relatively quiet crowd, but Sisters never seem to get going.

They face sound issues from the off as the vocals of both Aoife and Niall are lost in the mix and, as a result, the band seem to just shuffle their feet awkwardly as they play, showing little to no stage presence whatsoever. That said, the songs are good, very good in fact. The Wolf Alice similarities continue, with some elements of Ham Sandwich, as male and female vocals are traded, and a hint of Ash – most evident in the excellent Hush Hush – appearing every so often. SISTERS are talented, far more talented than the this somewhat lacklustre performance. NS

Elephant

It’s early days in the festival, which might explain the reticence of the folk gathered in The Grand Social to broach the halo of light on the dancefloor in front of Elephant, the moniker of Dundalk man Shane Clarke. Clarke’s songs are thoughtful explorations in the mould of Villagers, here bolstered by a keys player to aid with the layers of vocal and atmospheric drones. Clarke taps a beat on the body of his guitar, looping it to underpin a vocally emotive Boiling Water.

Little Ghost breaks the spell of that halo of light, as bodies are drawn towards the song’s Eastern sounding keys motif and a pounding beat that’s suddenly silenced into acoustic picking. He goes out with a new number – “It has a name but I don’t like the name so I’m not telling you what it was.” The Ukulele Song will have to suffice for now; folksy, brightly plucked, and with soft, sporadic keys – it all comes together nicely under the dim strings of lights in the venue. His debut album is on the way. You have your instructions…”make daddy rich.” JMD

Bad Sea

An early contender for surprise package of the weekend, Bad Sea, only formed in May, are Dublin duo Ciara Thompson and Alan Pharrell. Tonight they’re joined by Tandem Felix’s Ena Brennan for a set that is as endearingly brilliant for two polar opposite reasons. Firstly, the music, well, more specifically Thompson’s vocals – they are effortlessly beautiful. The accompanying instrumentation could be ear-achingly brutal and one would still be entranced by the soothing vocals. Thankfully, the band are excellent if a little understated. A clear decision has been made to allow Thompson’s voice to be the focal point and it pays off. Comes To Blood and The Drake Song (yes, it is dedicated to the man himself) are the distinct highlights.

Secondly, when not performing, Bad Sea are clearly enjoying their first foray into the Irish music scene. Inter-song banter is heartwarmingly candid as Thompson battles (via a series of expletives) with some malfunctioning mascara. Pharrell apologises for the language used before entertaining (we guess you could call it that) the awaiting crowd with a particularly crude joke, which Thompson labels as “the worst thing she’s ever heard” before asking the crowd if anyone “has an eyepatch“. It’s an eccentric and rather slapdash act but one which we cannot wait to catch again. NS

The Altered Hours

Fresh from their turn at Liverpool Psych Fest, Cork quintet The Altered Hours are steadily cementing their status as one of the most magnetic live acts on the circuit. There’s an intensity that drops like a veil when the lights dim – it’s music from the heart, and from the gut. The guitar chops, drums join, then a tambourine… all the elements gradually combine until the noise wall is constructed, and guitar and voice wail in sympathetic harmony. All the players move with the rolling rhythm of Sweet Jelly Roll, an undulating, almost-orchestral guitar tone operating as the breathing engine of it all.

The jolt of a snare roll kicks of a brief, punk blast – a stamping foot seems to coerce noise from the guitar, while that same guitar’s percussive, fiercely rhythmic chords have a piercing counterpart from the other side of the stage on Dig Early. The instrument punishing is guitar string assassination. With bodies thrown into guitars and melodious chaos all around, the bass player roots it all, head down, eyes closed in sonic meditation. From squeal to rumbling groan in one final grind-down, it ends. The sound is immense, and the delivery brutal, but The Altered Hours’ mission is honest and clear – they want to take you higher. JMD

Saint Sister

The last time we caught Saint Sister they went by Oh Sister and were playing support to what will possibly go down as the gig of the year, Will Butler at Whelan’s. It’s fitting so, that six months later, the duo put on what will possibly go down as the gig of the weekend. The difference half a year can make is startling. In Whelan’s that evening, Saint Sister were noticeably nervous in front of a packed out room, however, last night they were brimming with confidence despite being slightly taken aback by the size of the crowd that had come to see them.

Each and every song is a potential single – from the heart-achingly melancholic Castles right through to new single Madrid, the songs are clever lyrically and the harmonies are on point. Comparisons with The Staves will be unavoidable whilst the less delicate moments lean slightly on Florence Welch as Morgan Macintyre’s vocals fill every corner of the room. They may still be in their infancy as a band, but on the evidence of last night, Saint Sister are ready for bigger and better things. Watch this space. NS

Hot Cops

The Belfast trio at first seem like your by-numbers grunge-y indie band, all throaty shouting and fret-scouring abrasion. And shouty fret abuse is here in spades, and it’s all good. It’s when Hot Cops slow things down, though, that they reveal more to themselves than just surface-deep noiseniks. Carl Eccles’ vocal takes on a deeper intonation on a more intense musical trip, until things are hoisted back into thrashier territory with Fallout and a typically noisy coda. Six, in comparison, is pared-back, as Eccles shares vocals with bassist Nathan Rogers. The song is the best example of their quiet/loud dichotomy – mainly because the ‘quiet’ part is so effective. At one point Conor Ellison fucks his drumsticks away…suppose that’s it over so. JMD

Everything Shook

You’ve got to admire a venue that has big poles obscuring the view. No, wait…you don’t, not at all. Just like The Academy 2, The Academy Green Room sports four big poles for eight people to lean against while they watch a band. Unfortunately for Everything Shook, this is where they end up, playing to a criminally meagre crowd. That’s the compromise when you’re at somewhat of a remove from the epicentre of the festival across the Liffey. In any event, Jessica Kennedy, Áine Stapleton and Robyn Bromfield squeeze themselves and some gear onto the small stage and begin a set that must rank as the most eccentric so far.

A baroque Misericord, with those chant-like three-way vocals, leads into Come Back To Mine. Its dark pulse and industrial undercurrent offset the vocal stylings, all at once gothic, playful, and danceable. Three glasses are produced, a concoction is poured from a blender onstage, and the band sip as the ensuing track segues into a version of Amhrán na bhFiann you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else – save maybe for if Laurie Anderson ever decides to sing it. All three don shades and coloured wigs, and suddenly two of them are stage front engaging in a lengthy choreographed dance routine. Some audience interaction follows, and a lad comes onstage to don a horse head mask. When he begins to dance one thing becomes apparent…this isn’t his first rodeo. Everything Shook drew a short straw on the venue front, but nonetheless, theirs is one of the most enjoyably entertaining sets we’ve seen in a while. JMD

Maud In Cahoots

Having won a battle of the bands to perform at The Guinness Storehouse with Snow Patrol and Westlife on Arthur’s Day in 2010, it looked like Maud In Cahoots were set to be the next big thing. Single Push Me Under got plenty of radio airplay and their set at the Storehouse was well received. Fast-forward five years and for one reason or another it never did quite happen for Maud Ní Ríordán and co. However, that may have been for the best. The Maud In Cahoots we see tonight is entirely different. They’re bigger, bolder, and ultimately better.

She’s An Actress opens the set and the tone is set from the off. Ní Ríordán strikes a commanding figure as she sways in time with the music. Not only is her voice transfixing, but her powerful stage presence make it impossible to avert your eyes. Greatest Achievement is an aptly titled song as it’s undoubtedly the best thing the band has done so far, and the live version takes it to another level as Ní Ríordán’s vocals drive it home.

Maud’s on-stage persona certainly adds to the show but there are moments in which it’s a bit much, particularly as she introduces the band’s next single Cure For The Crazy. “You can buy it… soon. So do,” she commands in a manner which comes across as more seductive than suggestive, drawing some nervous laughter from the crowd. Alas, the song didn’t need any recommendations – it sells itself as it explodes into a dream-like, synth-laden outro before Ní Ríordán ensures the lasting memory of tonight’s show is her vocals as she croons “validation will be my cure.” Based on tonight’s performance, Maud In Cahoots’ decision to rip up the playbook and start again has been totally validated. NS

 

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