Paul Banks at The Academy by Kieran Frost

Paul Banks in The Academy on January 20th 2013

California atmospheric rockers The Neighbourhood kick off the show on Saturday night. Sounding like a version of Maverick Sabre where the backing band is more interested in playing post-rock than bombast and looking like Lostprophets (if I can still mention that name is decent company), they provide a set sufficient to keep the crowd interested if not blowing them away.

It’s just after 9 o’clock that Paul Banks and his three bandmates arrive all dressed in black, hitting the stage to serve up the main course for the evening. You could perceive this attire as the New York cool that Banks has so long been at the centre of, but Banks looks a little different now. Gone are the hipster glasses, tie and long hair, replaced with an almost-crew cut, open-neck shirt and dodgy blond facial hair. Up on the stage he’s even looking buff… for the usually wiry Paul Banks, that is.

Things appear to get off to a good start as Banks opens with the hugely powerful and atmospheric Skyscraper, from his solo debut ‘Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper’. That no one is playing clearly audible piano or strings is a bit disconcerting to the ear initially. It’s a tough song to kick off with for the opening show of a tour, but the sound as a whole, except for those pre-records above, is very tight.

And that’s the way the band seems to remain all night. They get on with their set without a dropped note and barely need to exchange a glance at each other as they play. For a lot of the set, however, that is the best thing that can be said about them. Banks’ new ablum, ‘Banks’, isn’t the best of the man’s career and a lot of the songs from it fall fairly flat. The crowd listen and nod throughout the music and cheer at the end, but there is little really going on in between.

The show is reliant on songs from ‘… Skyscraper’ to get any sort of (sorry for the pun) elevation. The likes of Fly As You Might and Only if You Run show why people were willing to fork out the money to see the show. The latter, in particular, offered a fine example for the twin lead guitar interaction that Banks is good at constructing. Here it sounds even better than he could manage on CD.

New track Goodbye Toronto offers something different to the night. It’s certainly more ‘out there’ than the rest of the tracks and perhaps points towards a less constrained sound in Banks’s future. It’s The Base that gets the biggest reaction of the main part of the set and almost, but not quite, gets people dancing; something that was needed in a show that wasn’t very emotionally engaging. Indeed, the few words that Banks shares with the audience are just the empty platitudes you hear time and again.

The momentum built up from The Base carries through Paid for That and Summertime is Coming to see the band exit the stage. When they return with On an Esplanade, without the acoustic beauty it has on ‘… Skyscraper’ it seems like a mistake, but the fantastic Game for Days ends the show on a high.

It was an ending that may have masked some of the limitations of the show. While it was never bad or boring, all too rarely were pulses set racing or hearts broken with beauty. Paying €30 for a show, I think you should expect a bit more.

Paul Banks Photo Gallery

Photos: Kieran Frost