Little Green Cars at Whelans on 8th November 2012

What was wrong with the original version of The John Wayne is probably one of the biggest mysteries in the Irish music scene. OK, not really, but it was really great. Released in July last year on the Young and Lost Club label, the blissfully melodic single was reissued and recast last month due to new deals in the UK and America. Already enjoying success in Ireland playing Oxegen and the Electric Picnic, Dublin five-piece, Little Green Cars have moved on to extensive airplay, name-drops from the New York Times and the Guardian, as well as a helping hand from super-producer, Markus Dravs. But, the only achievement on their minds tonight is a sold out headlining gig at their local Whelans, of course. It’s a homecoming of sorts, and they’ve brought some friends along to celebrate.

First up are newcomers Bleeding Heart Pigeons, a young trio from Limerick. They look a bit like schoolboys competing in a local battle of the bands, but sound like they’ve got it in the bag. Reserved in their strumming, front-man Michael Keating’s vocals are enthralling, keeping steady guidance above a building canvas of looped vocals and reverbing pedals. Visiting Myself in Hospital is a particular standout, Keating carrying out the motions like he’s solving a jigsaw puzzle. Sadly, the lingering sound is helplessly penetrated by the chatting punters starting to swell into Whelans’ nooks.

But the musical transformers solider on, the melancholy of In The Forest I Feel Bizarrely More At Home crawling over the punters, while tropical Catharsis mixes robotic precision with dreamy bridges. They haven’t quite mastered the rapturous attraction of the recorded version, but considering their gigs can be counted on the fingers of someone flipping you off, they can be forgiven for now.

Next up, positively old-timers compared to their predecessors, Gypsies on the Autobahn take to the turgid room. Tuned to each other, their harmonies are as slick as their hair, with front-man James Smith hanging from his mic like his neck is hinged to it. Five Words ups the tempo and wakes Whelans up. They’re clearly confident together, they’ve been there done that. Cohesive harmonies sit upon a lovely acoustic sound, gently enhanced with percussion where needed—Smith’s wails ensuring we don’t get too comfortable.

But then comes Little Green Cars to guide us back to that blissful lull. An a capella opening of Red demands all attention in the room, as Whelans is drenched in a wave of darkness. It’s as if we’ve just been told, served, and have little comeback—all that’s left are flashing red lights to illustrate the song and our mortified faces. Stevie Appleby gently greets the crowd, explaining that it’s the band’s first Irish show since their recent tour in the States. Cheers are thrown into the air—who said the Irish are begrudging? We’re just glad they came back.

The gentle strumming of Goodbye Blue Monday is as peaceful as watching a flame burn in complete darkness, Appleby’s voice perfectly gelled, his fellow bandmates stand solemnly until they’re required to inject their knot-tight harmonies. They don’t seem happy with the sound, asserting their confidence. Faye O’Rourke asks if she could have her mic turned up, please, before she belts out Mum and Dad at, admittedly, the perfect decibel. Stomping guitar is reflected in their lighting set-up, matching the beats with army circuit rigor. What might be uncomfortably dark for the crowd’s phone-photographers just lays down the ambiance for onlookers, like a song around a campfire. O’Rourke comfortably takes the role of leading lady as quick as she is to fade into a harmony behind Appleby. Not at all dissimilar to a young Stevie Nicks, she’s husky and powerful live as she belts out “My Mum and Dad have no idea what I’ve become.” They probably do now.

Upping the tempo, Harper Lee‘s harmonies sound beautiful under a glaring blue light, the band stomping with almost a cultish determination. There’s a gospel, praise, ambiance to the set, but they’re preaching to the choir. While it can often seem as though they appeared on the scene ready-made, touring that little more extensively has integrated them even further, in terms of now fitting together like cable-ties instead of velcro—there’s no going back now.

Gentle moments Please and Them are slow burners, all building up to those determined riffs, while the latter spurs the first sing along of the night. But they’re only getting started, with a stripped-down My Love Took Me Down to the River (To Silence Me) only daring to draw the mimes from the darkened crowddon’t even think about polluting the sound. The epileptic nightmare of The John Wayne proves the perfect stun anecdote to get Whelans moving, and after an encore the howling catharsis of Witching Hour, the lights are back up.

Back to reality, like getting on the glowing nitelink after becoming accustomed to the peaceful night. But hey, it’s not so bad. With a such a tantalising set, appetites are now truly whet for the album that will just never seem to get here. But you know what they say, albums are like buses…

Little Green Cars Photo Gallery

Photos: Mark Earley