Live Review: And So I Watch You From Afar, 20th June

And So I Watch You From Afar, with support from Skymas
Saturday 20th June, 2015- The Mandela Hall, Belfast

The almighty And So I Watch You From Afar have just finished the first leg of their “Heirs” tour. Consisting of Niall Kennedy and Rory Friers (guitar), Johnny Adger (bass) and Chris Wee (drums), the instrumental four-piece are well on their way to world domination, and recently concluded their extensive string of European dates with a celebratory show at the Mandela Hall, which was their only Northern Irish show of 2015, marking June 20th as a date to be observed by anyone with even a fleeting interest in music.

Skymas, who took to the stage shortly after the arrival of the bus of ASIWYFA’s hometown supporters, seemed to be an anomalous choice of support, but as their set wore on, it became apparent that this was a decision influenced by their ability to work a crowd as opposed to genre constraints. Like a fusion of The Prodigy and Japanese Popstars, their energetic EDM-influenced stylings served to suitably enthuse the already dangerously swaying masses. Their furious basslines battled against simultaneously saturnine and searing synth sounds, which were in turn accompanied by disconcerting, constantly transmuting animations played on screens either side of the stage and enthusiastic vocal (and kinetic) delivery.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly the issue was (that being said, the thundering bass and the plethora of effects that were in use probably went some way towards muffling Corrigan’s acerbic vocals), the sound quality did not do what would otherwise have been a perfectly decent performance any favours; during “Hey Porter”, I heard “Paula”, whilst a girl behind me heard “Harry Potter” in a Cornish accent.

The interlude that follows means that by the time ASIWYFA, already looking triumphant (and justifiably so- the Mandela is close to capacity), decide to grace the stage, the crowd has reached fever pitch.
Opening with the first track of Heirs, “Run Home”, the intricacies and relentless energy of which elicited the most powerful reaction from the audience imaginable, it is evident that this show is going to be remembered as a highlight for the band and their fans alike. Without breaking for breath, they dive headlong into the unceasingly intense “Wasps”, with tumultuous guitars and gang vocals overlaying the rumblings and ruminations of the rhythm section.

The focus of the evening remained, for the most part, (and for fairly obvious reasons) on their incredible new album, “Heirs”, but interspersed throughout the set were some of their earlier songs, which were received appreciatively by their captive audience as they are now commonly regarded by most: as classics. “BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION” (I challenge you to type that without feeling a certain surge of adrenaline), “7 Billion People All Alive At Once”, and “Search:Party:Animal” in particular serve to cement the atmosphere as electric, and at more point than one, I am fairly certain that the barrier has become a permanent installation in my abdomen, such is the crushing and moshing going on behind me.

In between songs, it is touching to see that the band is visibly moved by the crowd’s fervent response, whilst Rory Friers takes the time out to pay collective and individual thanks to members of their team and fan base. This is a band that continues to be all about their fantastically loyal fan base, and it’s an indefatigable, almost familial relationship in which both sides just keep on giving; not counting those onstage, a surprising number of tattooed ASIWYFA logos were proudly displayed throughout the venue.

Just when it didn’t look like the emotions being experienced couldn’t be heightened any further, ASIWYFA had to go and make it even more poignant by inviting Ewen Friers (brother of Rory, and vocals/bass of Axis Of) to join them for a stirring rendition of “These Secret Kings I Know”. Followed by “A Little Bit of Solidarity Goes a Long Way”, all of the band’s astounding technical capabilities are fully utilised, with Niall Kennedy and Rory Friers’ joint excavation of octaves building on Johnny Adger’s blaring, pounding basslines and Chris Wee’s rolling demolition of the drum kit.

“A Beacon, A Compass, An Anchor” and “Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate” melded into one another, expansive in nature and spirited in delivery, the closing notes continuing to reverberate long after the band left the stage. There was disbelief amongst the crowd, who were astoundingly confident in an encore taking place; much to everyone’s relief, after a short break, ASIWYFA returned. Had they not, sweat-soaked riots en masse would surely have ensued.

“Eunoia” and “Big Thinks Do Remarkable” from “All Hail Bright Futures” were performed with astounding precision and even greater vigour. “Set Guitars To Kill” sounded truly monumental (I later overheard some say that during it, they “felt like I could punch through mountains.”, which is an apt description of the general feeling that ran through the entirety of the evening), and final song, “The Voiceless”, was verging on transcendent.

Despite the fact that a number of fans probably went home with an impressive assortment of neck injuries, there was a real sense of catharsis underpinning proceedings. ASIWYFA’s only Northern Irish show of 2015 was superlative, and it’s not difficult to see why a band as supremely talented and hard-working as they are has been greeted with such acclaim. As relevant as they ever were, if not more so, these innovative musical stalwarts have already made the transition from local band to legends- the rest of the world is just getting up to speed.

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Live Review: SOAK, 7th November 2014

SOAK with support from Gabriel Paschal Blake

Friday 7th November 2014- Christ Church, Derry

If you aren’t familiar with “SOAK”, you probably haven’t seen too much but the underside of your rock for a while. The Derry-based Bridie Monds-Watson, who goes by the pseudonym “SOAK” (a portmanteau of “soul” and “folk”, despite it being difficult to pigeonhole her music based on such broadly defined trace elements) recently embarked on her “B a NoBody” tour, which encompassed venues of varying capacity in both the UK and Ireland. The penultimate show in Christ Church, Derry, was the first date that she had played in Derry for almost a year, and put a definitive end to the recent dry spell that the city had been experiencing.

As neither of us are overly familiar with Derry, upon my plus one enquiring of the venue “Are there like, pews?”, I made the mistake of laughing confidently. However, after two hours of resting rigidly upon a wooden pew, my joints and I were certainly no longer laughing. As it turned out, Gabriel Paschal Blake, a lyrical acoustic act hailing from Letterkenny, wasn’t much in the form for mirth either. His songs regale rambling tales of woe that would rival a lot of early (and overly emotive) LiveJournal entries. Boasting misleadingly cheery titles such as “My Father the Undertaker”, Blake’s songs are, admittedly, brimming with emotional depth and lyrical prowess beyond his years.

His stage presence transcends the stage (in the sense that he sporadically leaves it in order to engage further with the audience) and his vocal delivery doubles as a crash course in theatrical melodrama. What his songs may lack in conciseness is compensated for by his (almost worryingly raw) enthusiasm- unfortunately though, his highly ambitious reach just exceeds his grasp. I feel the need to point out that posing questions like “Does everyone die the same way?” for a few (fairly extensive) verses only to eventually conclude that, on second thoughts, “Not everyone dies the same way.” is possibly not the best formula for building rapport with an audience.

Taking to the stage with minimal preamble and a quiet confidence, SOAK exudes natural ease and ability, and chose to kick off the proceedings with “Explosions”. It is a gentle, understated opening track, and oozes ambience, with lulled arpeggios and her murmurings of “your heart” resounding continually off of the dimly illuminated walls. The atmosphere verges on ethereal, between her otherworldly music and black-clad, nymph-like stature, which is only accentuated by the purple and green candlelight.

Followed by the wonderfully wistful “Sea Creatures”, her vocals are delicate and harmonise beautifully with the earnest acoustic melody, all of which again contrasts sharply with the fluid, arresting lyrics. Coming from anybody else, “I prayed for you/And you know I don’t like Jesus” would most likely be written off as an attempt at being knowingly self-conscious, but when it’s coming from SOAK, you can’t help but be drawn into empathising with her lightly lilting plight.

The lesser known tracks, “Worry” and “Blind” are also rather well received by the enraptured audience- SOAK could easily remain silent between songs and still win over any crowd, but instead, she chatters with great ease, conveying her sincere appreciation and dispersing snippets of information about her recent tour and each individual song.
Next up, and setting the scene for some serious soul-searching, is the beautifully melancholic “24 Windowed House”. We are privy to hearing that it was written with the intention of stepping back and looking at someone by means of “different parts of them, like they’re a house, and you’re looking at them and bits of their personality through like, different windows”. The song is, despite its unusually ambitious concept, pleasantly articulate: brooding in nature, but open in its evident affection for the subject. Her delivery is nothing short of stunning: the crystallised sweep of her vocal range combined with the soulful strumming on her acoustic is absolutely mesmerising, and a pleasure to behold.

Having recently hit a whopping one million plays on Spotify,“B a noBody” is a no-brainer of a crowd pleaser. It is recreated live with no difficulty whatsoever, which is something of a rarity for any current artist, and only demonstrates further her infallible talent. The song alludes to something of a paradox, in that SOAK seems to take a variation of pride in being a self-proclaimed “nobody”, when in fact, she is considered not only a somebody, but one that is certainly of note, by fans and critics alike: she recounts having fans steal the black helium balloons from the previous night’s show in London; being invited to a Burberry launch party; and more recently, has received a nomination for the BBC’s Sound of 2015.

The emotive “Blud”, which was dedicated to a friend who recently passed away, was declared to be the last song of the evening. It is evocative of Beach House, and would have been a rather fitting ending to such a heartfelt set. However, needing little persuasion (in which the crowd are more than happy to indulge- I highly doubt that this is a church that has echoed with chants of “One more tune!” prior to this evening), SOAK obliges with a much appreciated encore.
Featuring “Reckless Behaviour”, which is “probably” going to be her next single, but regardless of release date, is bound to be a sure-fire hit. Filled with clever hooks, and complete with a rather catchy refrain, it is definitely a release to look forward to.

Finally, switching up her acoustic for an electric guitar, “Oh Brother” runs in a darker, but nonetheless thrilling, vein. Frankly, it is bewitching to witness a talent so versatile, and yet so distinctive. Upon seeing her perform, the fact that SOAK has become so well established in a relatively short space of time is of no surprise, especially when you take into consideration her incredible natural ability. She is an artist truly deserving of the surrounding hype, and her musical prowess is already remarkable- it is simply an added bonus that she will only continue to hone her existing skills, as both a performer and as a songwriter, and that Derry is fortunate enough to be able to lay claim to having produced such a brilliant young talent.

Live Review: Rainy Boy Sleep, 24th October 2014

Rainy Boy Sleep with support from Chelsey Chambers
Friday 24th October 2014 – Mason’s, Derry

Having recently signed to Universal, this is the penultimate Northern Irish show for the singer-songwriter Rainy Boy Sleep. Promoting his new EP, “Ambulance”, he is effortlessly straddling the transition from renowned local artist to a major act, continuing to strike the balance between larger venues and more intimate ones.

With no announcement, Chelsey Chambers took to the stage. Her strength lies in her vocal performance, with her self-styled strain of country-pop making for easy listening. Performing tracks such as ‘Turn Back Time’ and ‘A Million Homes’, it is obvious that her song writing is highly personal, and is brimming with pleasantly relaxing harmonies and hooks. Despite her quietly confident performance, she leaves the stage with little ceremony.

After a brief amount of fine tuning, Rainy Boy Sleep stepped up to the mic, kicking off with an unreleased and acutely melodic song called ‘Jeanie’- it’s a solid start, but so far, nothing out of the ordinary. However, the wonderfully witty ‘Yours Truly’ takes on a new depth in such an intimate venue; never has writing letters to dead girls seemed so hopelessly romantic (or plausible) a concept.

By the time he reaches the ode to platonic love, ‘Shopping Centre Song’, he has well and truly broken into his stride. The self-assured swagger with which he performs has become even more pronounced with the addition of some shiny new backing tracks (courtesy of the prolific dance producer, Reuben Keeney), and is nothing short of endearing, making him even more engaging to observe. The wonderfully melancholic ‘One After One’ follows – it is something of an oxymoron in that it manages to be powerful yet subdued, beautiful but haunting all at once, all of which are indicative of a truly great songwriter.

The lead track from his forthcoming album, ‘Waiting Games’ is a sweet, agreeable, but somewhat anaemic offering, serving primarily to showcase his dizzying vocal range (and presumably, is intended to appeal to both radio stations and his hoard of female fans). ‘Your Face’, penned at Glastonbury 2011, fulfils a similar purpose, and from anybody else, such a song would surely be praised; however, it lacks his trademark acerbic twist, and is verging on being overly sentimental, which is nothing short of a pity when his capacity for being sharp is otherwise so evident.

Thankfully, the bite re-enters his performance in the shape of the charmingly self-deprecating ‘Stupid Boy’, but for me, the show is stolen by ‘Manchester Post’, which has been revamped to the point that it is barely recognisable. A track which admittedly, I previously found underwhelming, is now stunning in the most unexpected way- it is punchy and danceable, and despite its genre-bending tone, lends his self-defined label of “folktronica” some real meaning.

The set is rounded off with the crash course in duality that is the title track of his recently released EP, ‘Ambulance’. The notably dark subject matter (which just happens to be violence within an abusive relationship, since you asked) is presented in a jaunty, playful, almost joyous way, complete with a children’s choir on backing vocals. The contrast between the uplifting harmonies and the brutality of the lyrics is at no point either inappropriate or misleading: it is truly clever, which is even further evidence that Rainy Boy Sleep is a musical talent that is not to be underestimated by any means.

A compelling set from an intriguing artist, the only disappointment of the evening was the lack of audience turnout, but he even managed to turn this to his advantage: instead of feeling (relatively) sparsely populated, the room felt full of excitement and bated breath. It’s difficult not to feel rather privileged, as seeing a performer as truly stellar as Rainy Boy Sleep in such an intimate venue is a rarity, especially in the face of his surely imminent success.