Unsurprisingly, day two of Vantastival saw a much larger crowd in attendance with Badly Drawn Boy and King Kong Company – the two main draws of the festival – both appearing. The weather remained Mediterranean, meaning that news that the water had been cut off in Drogheda was met with some trepidation but didn’t really put a dampener on proceedings too much.
Dublin setup Just Mikey explode onto the stage, doing their damnedest to prove there’s life in the boys-with-guitars-plus-MC formula yet, despite The Original Rudeboys calling it a day last week. This kind of thing can get a little bit saccharine at times, but Just Mikey essentially pull it off. Sound issues raise their heads intermittently throughout the weekend, and the vocals in particular are hard to make out during this set. The delivery is strong though, and the band are tight enough as a unit to produce a surprisingly memorable gig.
On another afternoon of beyond-perfect festival weather, Saramai, deliver a set of sporadic quality on the GoldenPlec stage. Led by Saramai Leech herself and two band mates, Leech tells the crowd they have only been operating as such for a few months. It seems at times as if they are still getting used to life as a trio. Leech’s piano work on a few of the tracks is impressive, and the newer material in particular seems very promising, but on its own terms the performance doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry.
The singer-songwriter with a guitar is a template that has served many in good stead over the years, but on an individual level it can be hard to produce anything worth sticking around for. Fiach Moriarty is a case in point. Alone on the GP stage with his acoustic, you can’t say that he doesn’t back himself, and never lacks gusto or confidence. The music has a hard time justifying itself, however. The set is let down by clunky lyrics about being ‘married to music’ and the like, and even though he hits the high notes, a cover of the ELO’s ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ really doesn’t belong here. Nobody’s idea of a classic gig, you would have thought, but Moriarty is called back for an encore by the rapturous crowd, so what do we know?
Elm have begun to make a few waves of late, with new single Concentrate being well-received, and a busy summer of festivals ahead of them. Marked out by the cello and keys of Gary Molloy, and the distinctive, intimate timbre of singer Dylan Walsh, Elm’s earthy, fluid sound demands attention. Despite the sound issues which again caused a few problems, Elm’s quality and, more importantly, their potential, came to the fore. Songs like Amends are earworms which should continue to pick up buzz. Like Saint Sister the previous night, Elm’s overall aesthetic works in the wooded setting, even if the sound threatens to let them down. One to watch.
Best-known to many, perhaps, for their years of high-octane busking on Grafton Street, Mutefish bring more of the same energy to the main stage on a resplendent June evening. Anyone who has heard the band will know what they do, and in their defence they do it brilliantly. The rare band to accommodate powerchord-thrashing Les Pauls, traditional flutes, and mandolins in their line-up without succumbing to total gimmicrky, the 5-piece know how to construct an instrumental track. Most songs follow the template of carefully orchestrated build-ups followed by bombastic limb-flailing climaxes. No surprises anywhere, but that isn’t what Mutefish do. For anyone looking to escape the more subdued, introspective fare on offer elsewhere on site, there’s probably little better.
As with any festival, there are acts playing Vantastival for whom which this will be the summit of their careers, those on the way down and those destined for bigger things. Fangclub are definitely in the latter category. The young Irish trio have just released their debut EP ‘Bullethead’ on a major record label. It was a sad state of affairs then to witness them run through a half-baked cover of Kodaline’s All I Want and later Elvis’s Suspicious Minds in a key out of singer Steven King‘s vocal range. Drummer Dara Coleman in particular needs to raise his game, his current default setting of battering as many cymbals as he can in unison betrays the riffs of his counterparts, smothered them in hiss instead of propelling them with thunderous beats. It’s no coincidence that the band is at its best when he ditches this approach. Frankly, you expect much more from a signed act.
In a battle of the stages, Track Dogs were up against festival headliner Badly Drawn Boy. Wonderfully unfazed by this, the band drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend to the GoldenPlec Stage, cheery, Spanish-tinged acoustica proving a hit with a crowd that wanted to dance.
Badly Drawn Boy
The only non-Irish act to feature at this year’s Vantastival, Badly Drawn Boy seems like a bit of a strange fit. For parts of the set, it’s difficult to tell if he is singing or not, owing to the sometimes terrible sound, and the din of the chattering crowd. On the latter point, Mr. Gough doesn’t do much to help his cause. The early part of the set in particular isn’t up to very much, his singing with an electric guitar coming out as, frankly, a mess. Mixing work from The Hour of Bewilderbeest with lesser-known tracks from the long back nine of his career, the jumble is sometimes barely audible over the several conversations. The whole affair does improve as the end draws in, with Gough moving from electric to acoustic to piano, before finishing on an encore of the Stone Roses’ I Wanna Be Adored. It might say something that this is possibly the highlight.
King Kong Company
There’s a certain kind of pandemonium that the crowd have been waiting for all weekend, and King Kong Company are just the shower to provide it. “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time, and if you’ve got anything left, now is a good time to take it” suggests Mark Graham from the drumkit, and there’s little let-up either before or after. It’s clear the affection the group have for Vantastival, playing here three years running and referring to it lovingly as a person-centred community. KKC’s live show is by now perfectly tuned to the needs of the ravenous festival circuit. It’s lights and lasers a-go-go from start to finish. The Déise men crack into long-standing favourites and tracks from their upcoming debut album with equal vigour. Shiny tracksuits and a traffic cone-sporting, flag-waving band member never feel anything less than totally natural. Recent single Scarity Dan and a new track dedicated to the late Muhammad Ali (with accompanying chant) stand out for their raucous intensity. Beyond that, picking individual highlights proves tricky. Once they take to the stage, it’s an uninterrupted blast of ecstatic energy. Up there with the best of them when it comes to rounding out a festival.