There was no denying that sinking feeling that occurred when we crawled out of our tents on Saturday morning to be greeted by a grey, overcast skies and a chilly drizzle of rain. But even if typical Irish festival weather had returned to catch us unaware, Knockanstockan couldn’t be beaten that easy.
See Friday KnockanStockan 2014 review here
Cork’s Elastic Sleep has provided one of the year’s standout EPs yet for their Knockanstockan debut, the Circus Tent was suspiciously empty. Irrespective, Elastic Sleep are an intriguing prospect due to the duality the band conveys. When Muireann Levis takes on lead vocals, she conveys an ethereal fragility. Live, Deep And Blue makes the hairs on your neck stand up before it degenerates into a clattering rumbling finale. Tzar Bomba (No More Tears) is a much more conventional dark-hearted indie rock song, but no less appealing with Chris Somers on lead vocals. While their playing could not be faulted, there was a spark missing to really connect with the audience.
For differing reasons, Otherkin also didn’t quite match the hype they have been generating. Dressed all in black and skinny jeans, they represent the atypical indie rockers. There’s no slouching as the buzz furiously into their set. Everything is at a hundred miles an hour. This blast of youthful energy is part of the problem as it is all too one paced. It’s certainly not for a lack of quality songs (such as Tampered) as Otherkin are in possession of those, but the setlist they mapped out left out some songs which would have enhanced their set and made it less predictable. We’re positive this band has more to offer but unfortunately, today was not the showcase of their talents. We look forward to them proving us wrong next time out.
Over in Grabber’s Cottage, O Emperor felt a little bit out of place at Knockanstockan. Their polished, melodic indie pop/rock felt oddly lifeless – and lacked the stirring, rousing live delivery that plenty of other acts brought to the same stage over the weekend. Holy Fool and Electric Tongues may have flowed as smooth as butter, but the set still felt a little flat, and the synths and precise guitar work a little too neat and unaggressive to make a real splash.
An uber-tight cover of Bowie’s Let’s Dance stirred things up a bit, but even that boogying momentum got a bit lost again when O Emperor ended on the significantly more down-beat This Is It. Talented musicians and songwriters they may be, O Emperor were far from the most electrifying live acts on the bill.
Vernon Jane on the other hand had no problems with the blend of psychedelic jazz. Vernon Jane’s sound is centred on the magnificent vocals of Emily Jane O’Connor. She is a charismatic presence, chatting amiably with the crowd and hold attention throughout. Though this is a band in its infancy and has yet to release any material online, it doesn’t show in the live performance. Vernon Jane displayed a fluidity that belied their relative collective inexperience. The downside to such a short existence as a band is that they are still finding their feet in songwriting terms. Not everything stuck in the mind as much as Weedz.
Competing with the frantic hard-rock coming from the Circus Tent, the sound of The Magpies shoegaze-infused surfer rock was endearing and attention-grabbing enough to hold a few early afternoon listeners at Grabbers Cottage. The atmosphere was chilled as the band’s rather dour looking frontman contrasted his demeanour by leading the band through a series of sunshiny songs, while a theremin carried the music into the loud and distorted place inhabited by your Cocteau Twins and your My Bloody Valentines. When a quieter song arrives the aggressive sounds of the Circus Tent threaten to drown it out, but The Magpies keep going and finish off a fine set without seeming too put off by the disturbance. They do love a bit of noise piled onto the melody after all.
Twin Headed Wolf
Few acts are quite as suited to the Knockanstockan ethos as Twin Headed Wolf, and indeed we do enjoy a bit of a love-in when the sisters take to the Faerie Field stage. Their brand of gypsy-folk music is as visually compelling as it is aurally pleasing, and the assortment of tools at the duo’s disposal – including a saw and some other bits and bobs that would take intensive google searches to identify – are beautifully captured on songs like The Black Keys.
The little blue balls that had been floating around the festival site for the weekend made an explosive appearance during this set as the seated crowd turned into one big hot-plate, balls flying everywhere. Meanwhile the singers onstage engaged in a bit of impromptu puppet surgery as a recently decapitated doll was reconfigured with an animal skull. Twin Headed Wolf are still one of the few Irish acts who perfectly manage to be quirky and endearing, a pleasure to watch and always remaining quintessentially themselves.
Bagels are four young lads from Dundrum. We’re talking really young; they’re 16. That’s the last I’ll mention or want to hear of it as Bagels are not ‘good for their age’ – they’re just good. Really good. Their Dimestore Stage set on Saturday evening was a joy to watch. They bashed through a mix of originals and covers; getting tops off, jumping around and bashing upside cymbals with various instruments while the audience either bounced around getting into it (regular punters) or stared at the stage with their mouths gaping open in delight (other musicians). Go see Bagels as soon as possible.
Kicking Bird can rightly be happy with their outing in the Faerie Field. Saturday’s weather was mostly overcast, but perhaps it was fate that the sun finally broke out as Kicking Bird played a warm upbeat set. The twin vocals of Shannen Byrne and Michael Smith dovetail like mating swallows. For an acoustic set up, they provide a surprisingly full bodied sound that’s best epitomised on The Edge Of The Earth.
Wyvern Lingo (one of our ‘Plec Picks 2014’) have been on the live circuit for quite a while, slowly but effectively building a following for themselves with their soulful brand of harmony-laden pop-rock. Thankfully they take the opportunity of their Knockanstockan appearance to announce the coming of a brand new EP in August. So what do all those fans the girls have accumulated over the years have to look forward to once the record hits shelves? The music is based around guitar, keyboard and percussion and for all the forcefulness of the songwriting the atmosphere in the Faerie Fields is chilled in the extreme.
An appearance from the beautifully melodic The Widow Knows which has been a part of the band’s setlist for all those years of gigging, is as endearing as ever. But it’s with the closing acapella number (Used) that the band manage to emphasise why the gig-goers of Ireland find it so hard to shake Wyvern Lingo from their memories. The sound bleed from the Wishbone Stage is present but it’s easy to ignore when what’s before us is this good.
Like Mumford and Sons if they got drunken and rowdy and started a bar fight, The Eskies brought an infectious and delirious folk/blues energy to their set that had more than few new fans won over before the end of the first number.
Cries of “Up the Parish” summoned forth rousing renditions of the bluegrass-tinged Down Down Down and the boozy sea shanty Haul Away, before things hit boiling point on the ridiculously energetic and hook-laden Fever. Equal parts sweaty and soulful, the Eskies’ manic musical verve sways recklessly from genre influence to genre influence, but it is never ever boring.
As Saturday evening was drawing to a close and the festival moving to its conclusion, dancing shoes were required for WOB! The live mix of guitar and drums to the jazzy electronica provides an organic feel. Guitarist Paul O’Hare has a dizzying amount of guitar pedals to play with and create snaking patterns over. It’s all grounded by Nenad Djordjevic’s metronomic drumming that simply does not miss a beat. It really clicks on songs like Orient Express where head nodding leads to entire body popping moves.
Sounds Of System Breakdown
Sounds Of System Breakdown were ready for their show down with The Hot Sprockets. Both were on at the same time and SOSB were not taking any shit. The trash talking was all in good humour as Rob Costello joked that “We know The Hot Sprockets buy their cowboy boots from Pennies”. When it came to the beats, they threw down the gauntlet. The set mixes the old with the new but it’s tighter than Cavan man’s wallet. Jaysyehaventacluedoyeh sounds every bit as thumping as Giving Up. This is a band that know what the crowd want and don’t deny them the pleasure of favourites such as Neon Contrails and Tear At The Seams. Last year they played a storming set at Knockanstockan and this year’s performance reaffirms their position as one of the best live acts at the festival.
The Hot Sprockets
The Hot Sprockets are the very definition of a festival band. They dive into every performance with so much passion and commitment that you don’t even have to know the songs to have a good time. But this is their first Knockanstockan since the recent release of their fantastic second album ‘Brother Nature’, so people not knowing the songs doesn’t seem to be an issue.
From the swampy blues of Quarter Roam to the absolutely blistering, ferocious back-to-back of Show Me the Weight and Woman & Chile, the whole thing plays out like a masterclass in playing a festival slot – no surprise given these lads headlined Knockanstockan last year. The breezy Comin’ On is the perfect song to throw an arm around a mate to and single-de-force, Soul Brother, prompts a mass sing-along. The ace up the Sprockets sleeve however is when they slow everything down for Homeslice. “Act like a child but my age just brings me down” is a line that’s made for singing at the top of lungs, surrounded by hundreds of like-minded music fanatics as the sun goes down by a lake in Wicklow. Pure bliss.
For anybody not rocking out to the Hot Sprockets or Sounds of System Breakdown, things were getting funky over at the Faerie Field, courtesy of Zaska. The sexy sway and rolling rapped vocals of She Gunk Gunk Dunk a Funk launched the set into sweet and delicious life. The eight-piece – complete with brass section and male and female backing vocalists – quiskly established a deftly balanced back and forth interaction, with no one, least of all Max Zaska himself, domination the audience’s attention for too long.
The ‘In Your Own Sweet Time’ EP may be truly impressive piece of work (and the title track was a moment of absolute sweetness), but the real attraction of the night were the as yet unreleased numbers, particularly the expansive and sweeping Oh Yeah, which soared from a gentle toe-tapping rhythm to a big soulful release of noise. Zaksa’s next release is nothing if not highly anticipated.
Overhead the Albatross
Closing out Dimestore’s Circus Tent stage for Saturday night were the instrumental post-rockers Overhead, the Albatross. The shirtless and body-painted six-piece were joined onstage by violinist Lia Wright, who displayed some furious bow shredding rarely seen on such an instrument in order to keep up with the barrage of riffs from the three guitarists.
The hefty, anthemic sweep of Telekinetic Forest Guard doused the packed out marquee tent in a tsunami of noise rock, streaming from the neatly arranged shiver of atmospheric melodies to furious, thrashing breakdowns.
Overhead, the Albatross’ forthcoming debut album is another one we can’t wait to check out. Hurry up lads, yea?
Booka Brass Band
Fresh from stealing the show at Longitude last weekend, Booka Brass Band took to the stage at a packed out Faerie Field in high spirits and immediately transformed it into the equivalent of a sweaty nightclub dancefloor, blasting through a range of their own high-energy originals along with some perfectly executed covers including Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty.
You may not be rushing out to buy Booka Brass Band’s album (probably because they don’t have one) but they are natural born performers who come to life in a live setting. They close their set with a rambunctious rendition of Beyonce’s Crazy In Love which sparks a bit of a stage invasion and also sees some crowd surfing trumpeteers (it’s not every day you get to say that). Along with Le Galaxie, Booka Brass Band have every right to be claimed as Ireland’s best live act right now, so we were very proud to have them see out the final moments on our GoldenPlec hosted Faerie Field stage (for the second time this summer, as they headlined our Vantastival GoldenPlec stage too).
Contributing writers: Niall Swan, Bernard O’Rourke, Frank Hughes, Stephen Murphy, Claire Beck and David Dooley
See Friday KnockanStockan 2014 review here