TOPS in Whelan’s, Dublin, on May 6th 2015
Ah yes, the Canadian Tuxedo – attempted by many but pulled off by few, if in fact any, save for maybe Bryan Adams. But then, the Groover From Vancouver is a bona fide Canadian, as are TOPS, and lead singer Jane Penny dons double denim with aplomb; maybe it’s an act of patriotism, maybe simply a tour-related laundry synch malfunction. Whatever the reason, combine Penny’s look and the band’s airy synth pop framework and you get a hazy John Hughes summer soundtrack played out in a modestly filled Whelan’s main room.
Dublin quartet Skelocrats reference the ‘80s more subtly towards the end of their opening slot with the Spanish pomp of Beat Your Buddies. “This is a Subbuteo song”, de facto leader Padraig Cooney tells us before drummer Paddy Hanna takes the vocal. Singing duties are swapped equally between the four – classy pop from Cooney on Permanent House Painter; the pop punk of BCE from Bronwyn Murphy-White; Mike Stevens stepping up on New Situation and Raise A Cup Of Tea. You can’t really argue with anything here, and this raggedly melodious set zips along nicely.
TOPS take their positions and the gentle sway of Jane Penny’s dancing, one hand planted on the keyboard to her right, brings the crowd that bit closer to the stage for 2 Shy as whispery intakes of breath from the bassist provide the organic backing. Penny’s vocals are as airy as the music that underpins them throughout, although she occasionally gives a glimpse of the power in her voice.
All the People Sleep is somewhat different to the rest of the set; slow, but gently picking up as it heads towards its conclusion. It’s the first part of what seems a languid mid-gig slow set, with some interweaving bodies on the dancefloor making the most of the intimacy before the brighter new wave numbers reappear.
The band cuts out after a few minutes of the lounge-y disco of Way to be Loved for Penny to sing acapella; silence reigns, until a drum roll from Riley Fleck calls everyone back in for a bouncing finale. David Carriere falls to his knees at his guitar pedals and Penny follows suit, kneeling with arms outstretched up to her keys. It’s a noisy, rumbling coda that abruptly and cheerfully ends; a surprisingly rowdy finish to a set that moved from one largely interchangeable moment to the next. The band’s somewhat anaemic sound – one that works on record – has some way to go before translating successfully to the live stage, even if the small-but-loyal midweek crowd danced the night away.