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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