There are certainly no signs as we queue outside Whelan’s on Sunday night that this would be anything other than a nice, relaxed weekend wind-down in the company of LA quintet Lord Huron. The Whelan’s pre-show crowd is in the usual form, chattering and milling around in the main room as the sound checkers ‘one-two’ and the room gradually gains in capacity. There’s something in the air, though, and we credit the gradual good-humoured rambunctiousness that takes over the crowd during this night in no small part to Conor Linnie.
This is his second Whelan’s gig of the weekend, having played the upstairs venue the night previous. At once, his folksy, impressive guitar picking quells the crowd chatter as he plays a selection from his ‘Astray’ album. Unearthly Light is new, though, delicately teased out from his guitar, while The Writing In The Sky is somewhat more upbeat, as Linnie’s fretwork gives the song a gentle forward momentum. Then, as happens later on The Fire I’m Kindling, the latter stages of the song take on a more forceful, stamping rhythm. Linnie seems to be enjoying it, more so as the set progresses, and there is no doubt that the crowd certainly are. The buzz is palpable after this opener, and the crowd truly warmed up for the headliners.
A thunderous drone swells as the room darkens, an evocation of a dustbowl landscape, and the crowd whoop in anticipation. The main act enters, led by Ben Schneider in a white hat, an impassioned leader who acts as the fulcrum around which this kinetic quintet moves. Ends Of The Earth kicks things off, starting gently before breaking out with some yodelling for good measure, as drummer Mark Barry sits tethered in place by the washboard around his neck.
Tracks are linked by that same opening drone, subtly changing as the gig goes on but creating a unifying link. Schneider ardently reiterates the sentiments of The Man Who Lives Forever, gesturing with his hands, before evoking Neil Young on I Will Be Back One Day. The band throw themselves into the more rock-out parts of the songs; the rhythm section form a cohesive pair at the back, with bassist Miguel Briseño and Barry playing various percussive knick-knacks as well as their primary instruments. Schneider frequently turns to face them – well, throws his head in their general direction – giving the idea that this is a unit rather than a band translating one man’s words.
We Went Wild is a game-changer, with Schneider downing guitar to hammer a tom stagefront and Briseño leading the crowd in a mass handclap. Bodies visibly get more animated from this simple solidifying moment onwards, and when Schneider notes that “Dublin on a Sunday is crazy” it’s not simply another platitude. The Ghost On The Shore feels almost like a lullaby after this, until Time To Run brings things back to the carnival atmosphere. Brother is an extended, hand-clappy and percussive finisher, breaking down into an ambient faux-ending before revving up for one more runaround. That backing drone whistles and swirls, as they exit to a rowdy applause.
Schneider comes back alone for Lullaby. “Up the Banner!” comes a roar from the bar – yep, the GAA are in. The band re-joins midway through, silencing the song to finish on a more frantic Mighty. The hat flies off Schneider’s head for the third time tonight, as he and his colleagues race for the finish. Lord Huron have an undeniable knack for a well-constructed tune, eliciting a crowd response at certain junctures that you could almost predict each time. They tend towards the formulaic, but it’s a formula that’s perfectly suited to the live setting. “I just hope you’re having as much fun as we are” Schneider says at one point; something tells us that the Whelan’s crowd have one over on them on this one.