whenyoung at Whelan’s, Dublin on 7th May 2019
There aren’t many Irish acts who can boast selling out venues as big as Whelan’s outside of Ireland before selling out Whelan’s itself. whenyoung are one of those bands. Plying their trade in London for the last few years means the Clare/Limerick trio (although, tonight they’re a four-piece) whenyoung approach their first Whelan’s headliner a far more polished and internationally successful outfit than most debutants at the famed Dublin venue.
The last time this writer saw the band play on home soil was at Hard Working Class Heroes (now Ireland Music Week) under their previous moniker, Sisters. A whole lot has changed since then. In 2015, the band were one with lots of potential, but also one which lacked an identity and more importantly, lacked confidence. Three-and-a-half years later, they undoubtedly have a direction, they have a style, but do they have what it takes?
The answer is yes. The addition of a bass player to the live show creates the perfect space within which lead singer Aoife Power comes to the fore. Previously, undertaking bass and vocal responsibilities at the same time, Power was often static and reliant on her unique vocal to draw the attention of the audience. Now, however, she is captivating as she roams back and forth across the stage. In previous shows, the convulsive movements of guitarist Niall Burns were often the focus, not anymore.
It’s a new song-heavy night, with more than half of the setlist taken up by as-of-yet unreleased tracks, the highlights of which are Blank Walls with its instantly memorable chorus, and the Grenfell-Tower inspired The Others, the band’s next single. The beautifully tender duo of Blow Up The World and Sleeper are given the respect they deserve by an attentive Whelan’s crowd before a hectic finish of popular single Given Up, and the powerful Never Let Go.
However, attentive as they are, there’s something missing in the Whelan’s crowd tonight. When compared to whenyoung performances in London and across the UK, there is a distinct lack of young people to be seen on the floor. Instead, many in their late 20s and their 30s watch in arms-folded, head-nodding appreciation, which, of course, is their prerogative, but what’s happening on stage deserves more. “COME ON DUBLIN” roars drummer Andrew Flood during the final song. Some arms unfold, a few even rise above heads, but the apathy soon takes over again.
It’s a clear sign that alternative bands like whenyoung need an outlet in Ireland to reach younger audiences, something which isn’t readily available in the country at the moment. This needs to change before more bands decide to take their chances of moving abroad rather than honing their craft at home.
All that said, whenyoung are clearly on a path to success, and with their debut album ‘Reasons To Dream’ out later this month, it won’t be long before they’re selling out UK venues far larger than Whelan’s. But will Ireland follow suit? Here’s hoping.