Rubyhorse at Whelan’s, Dublin on the 14th of September 2018
The passage of time is a funny old thing in the entertainment industry. The clamour for the new thing means that bands and movies disappear into the ether.
This was to be the case with Cork’s Rubyhorse, they toured the world with the likes of REM and INXS and troubled the upper echelons of the Billboard charts on several occasions with singles such as Sparkle.
They even collaborated with George Harrison, and yet despite having more success than many of their Irish contemporaries such as The Frank and Walters, The Stunning and The Sultans of Ping FC, they have somehow become the relative the Irish music scene lost touch with, not out of malice or spite, but because of absence.
Ireland never fully realised how successful Rubyhorse were because while they settled in Boston, we didn’t see it or read about it on a regular basis. So when they quietly exited stage left around a decade ago, hardly anybody noticed. But on tonight’s evidence, 14 years on from the last time they played Dublin, we really should’ve been paying attention.
The 2018 version of Rubyhorse is a slick Americana machine, steeped in the tradition of the slow-burning American radio-friendly rock song. There are hints of Roy Orbison, Wilco, The Everly Brothers, Train, Simple Minds and acoustic Bon Jovi throughout the material. Rubyhorse’s failure to launch in Ireland is even more curious when you consider frontman David Farrell.
He oozes confidence and has a high level of stage craft. His between song patter is clever and witty with a comedian’s sense of timing and he is clearly meant for bigger stages. This was evidenced best on an extended version of comeback single I Wanna Get Lost, when his infectious personality convinced a crowd who had clearly come to hear the hits to fully engage in singing their new track. Few bands would be brave enough to attempt such a manoeuvre on a new track, even less could pull it off successfully.
Lest we forget his voice, his strong Cork lilt gives way to a fine, smooth voice, capable of belting it out Bono-style on the choruses such as Evergreen. His bandmates aren’t too shabby on the vocal front either with four-part harmony used prominently throughout.
An impressive version of This One Goes Out To The One I Love follows an anecdote about how Farrell’s inability to eat “one more burger on tour” led to a chance encounter with REM in a restaurant in Athens, Georgia, with guitarist Decky particularly impressive in aping Peter Buck’s guitar lines.
The ghost of George Harrison joins the band on slide guitar for Punchdrunk, the former Beatle’s heavenly presence adding weight to a track with a hint of The First Cut Is The Deepest about it.
When hit single Sparkle arrives, it’s instantly clear that while it may be their best-known song, it is far from their finest song.
The radio friendly 90s sheen is present, but Rubyhorse have much more to offer than that snapshot in time.