“Who wants rum?” a bartender shouts to a long queue over a blaring stereo and the voices competing with it for audibility, a question to which your trusted GoldenPlec reviewer gallantly steps forward to accept his poison. The question seems strange once the cupcake-sized glass is passed over the bar, loaded down with ice and coke, the straw surely added to help in locating the rum. It’s a curious game but one your reviewer participates in with the spirit of a true adventurer, and besides, it is the chance to hear some great Irish bands rather than the free alcohol that we’re all really here for…well…
First up is LotusEater, a band who despite coming from a country where the car dealers and largest airline live in superstitious fear of numbers, will be releasing their début album on Friday the 13th of September this year in the Grand Social. Their sound can’t be accurately described in words but you could call their style metal-infused psych-ethereal hip-rock funkedelia, however tribo-gothic triphop-based punketronic jazzicide might be just as accurate. Either way they performed their set with great energy and personality and finish it off with some good old rock-riffing that clicks really well, giving the café its first bit of good hard rocking for the evening.
In the interim a guitar is raffled off as the bands dismantle and reform the improvised staging area. The narrow space between the walled-off stage is busy with punters and waiters and musicians going back and forth while beyond the pillars the tabled and chaired area hosts diners who seem to generally be lending at least one ear to the musical proceedings before them. To this arrive the increasingly familiar and ever-welcome sounds of Raglans.
They kick off with little ceremony and The Man From Glasgow introduces their anthemic rock ‘n’ roll to the night. After seeing Raglans live a couple times you start to realise that they’re always on and if the animal drumming and Everley-esque harmonies on White Lightning don’t grab your attention then perhaps you’re dead. Their rock is matter-of-fact, like a tactical military strike or an experienced ambulance driver, and they never let their tunes flat-line. The bass-line and drums on High Road change emphasis as the song progresses rather than condescend to repeat themselves and the ecstatic drumming conclusion to Digging Holes fairly explodes the room, extra energy expended to get that unmiked cow-bell heard.
It’s a shame the venue’s so narrow because Raglan’s music is endlessly danceable but there’ll be plenty of time for that when they open for The Strypes in September. Again a guitar is raffled off (no luck on our end) and some reshuffling is done on-stage to accommodate the more complex sounds Come On Live Long. Their album ‘Everything Fall’ is one of the best albums of the year so all they really have to do tonight is play their songs well, which is the least they do.
They open their set with a violin bow dragged across a five-string bass while the hand-clap opening to Cybil arrives into a more electronic soundscape than that created on the album. The band’s use of electronic sounds is unusually soulful, and the synthesiser that comes from Louise Gaffney’s keyboard sounds as natural as an analogue organ. Even the electric piano is piano first, electric second, like the sounds are essential to the specific piece of music being played, not just there as a layer to cover a gap in the creative process.
From a great performance two particular highlights will be singled out here. First, Little Ones was given a great treatment, the sombre and tender melody of the opening giving way to a crashing wave of sound that was wonderfully executed and the volume balance was just right between the two parts of the song. The second mentions goes to the closing song Billions and the great jazz breakdown that bridges the gap between the song’s tranquil opening and its ending reprise. The drumming particularly deserves credit for its wild yet rhythmic risk-taking, that could have driven the song’s return wide of the mark but instead elevated it.
And so the night comes to an end as two tickets to Electric Picnic are auctioned off (whoever had ticket number 6, we hope you’re kicking yourself for leaving). By the final set of the night the audience had split in three, with those right up by the stage area and those in the tabled area generally paying close attention to the music while the middle section was taken up with lots of talk. It’s hard to measure the impact of events like this on how they expose great Irish music to the people, but when the acts are as good as they were tonight you have to believe that a good number of people are now tuned in.