As seems to be their custom, Fontaines D.C. swagger out an hour and ten minutes late, throwing flowers into the Newcastle crowd. Frontman Grian Chatten aims and reaches the packed gallery. With no introduction the drums and lights kick in for ‘A Hero’s Death’, Chatten barks: ‘Don’t get stuck in the past’. It’s a fitting start for what was an electrifying gig.
This Irish post-punk five-piece are currently touring their sophomore album, A Hero’s Death. It’s an emotionally compelling record, gloomier than its more melodic – and quite frankly more fun – predecessor, Dogrel (where the majority of the songs tonight are from). With Fontaines’ sustained critical success and their third album on the way early next year, they are a band potentially on the major rise.
But at least for now they can play places like The City Hall. It’s a good size, but not so big for the band to lose their intimacy with the crowd, or for the crowd to lose intimacy with itself for that matter; one central mosh pit roars pretty much throughout, sucking and spitting people out. Since the place is purposed as a seated auditorium, with the seats removed there’s a slight slope to the stalls – adding a down-hill velocity to some of the argy-bargy.
Bonding over writers like Kerouac, Yeats and Joyce at music school in Dublin, Fontaines regard their music as first and foremost a vehicle for Chatten’s poetry. I’ve heard some people complain of his words as tedious or derivate because of his often repetitive delivery of them. But when Chatten declares to this Newcastle crowd that ‘I was not born/Into this world / To do another man’s bidding’, it’s repeated so that you can’t treat the line like a throwaway – lost in the swell of hurtling guitars. It instead takes on an importance. Lyrics feel drilled into you until they have a mantra-like quality. You find yourself thinking about them days later, still just as vital and urgent.
Fontaines are instantly gripping performers and mostly thanks to Chatten. He never speaks to the audience, instead letting his distinctive monotone half-sung poetry do the work. He wrings and tears at his baggy OutKast graphic t-shirt; drives the mic stand violently into the ground; slaps his face; walks up and down the stage – frantically – at one point sticking all four fingers into his mouth as he intensely surveys the crowd. He only ever sings to individuals, picking them out, keen for them to listen. During the encore on the wistful ‘Roy’s Tune’, three fans on their mates’ backs were hoisted directly level to his eyeline. Chatten croons to them for three minutes about the loss of innocence, about once being ‘a cool, cool kid on the curb stone scene’.
Yet aside from Chatten’s frenetic energy and the odd flamboyant swing of the guitar from Carlos O’Connell, the band is pretty static. Only drummer Tom Coll occasionally smiles. Concentrated sincerely on their instruments, they manage to create tight but extremely varied music. ‘Hurricane Laughter’ was just as you’d think. Chatten tempestuously swings his right arm as Coll’s drums are deafeningly cranked and O’Connell churns out an oppressive Zeppelin-like riff. Conor Curley completes this disorientation with a nightmarish wail from his guitar that imitates the blare of an emergency siren. But alternatively, the garage-rock ‘Liberty Belle’ could easily be a Strokes song and the band adopts a Paul Weller-like swaggering groove on ‘Sha Sha Sha’.
The band takes a pause and sinks into a relative lull after what was a rip-roaring start. Sonically and thematically sombre, ‘I Don’t Belong’ and ‘The Lotts’ form a necessary interlude of calm. Providing the audience with some poignant moments as Chatten mediates on an absence of identity and the corroding routine of dissolution in the local.
Another highlight was the anthemic ‘Big’ which sent the now giddy and dehydrated crowd into frenzied joy. Chatten adopts various personae for his lyrics and in 2019 – before Dogrel was released – he said the song is about an individual’s “sickness of ambition”. Riding off their recent Grammy and Brit Award nominations I wonder how he feels now – proclaiming to this devout Newcastle crowd: ‘My childhood was small/But I’m gonna be big!’…
Featured Image: Paul Hudson on Wikimedia Commons with License (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fontaines_D.C._(49391483868).jpg)