Fontaines DC
Cardiff University
Review by Tom Emlyn
See Steve Bateman's pix from the same tour here

I first saw Fontaines D.C. at Green Man Festival this summer. I'd never seen them before and it was the biggest gig they'd ever played - a bit of a revelation for me as a listener as I'd never quite 'clicked' with their studio stuff, but their performance blew me away. I love their live presence, their balls-to-the-wall poetic rock spirit, the four-piece taking on the world in the pure tradition of so many great bands before them.

I had a similar feeling watching them at Cardiff Uni's Great Hall last Thursday.

Fellow Irish band 'The Altered Hours' played a great opening set that combined a garagey Brian Jonestown Massacre backseat with some great pop hooks, psychedelic overtones and beer bottle slide guitar. Great stage presence as well - swaggering bassist, shoulder pads, girl drummer, tall scarecrow-thin guitarist with a mop of hair.

Pic - Facebook

Just like when I saw them at Green Man, Fontaines D.C. chose, unusually, Tom Waits' beautiful, devastatingly elegiac song 'Dirt in the Ground' for their walk-on music. It's basically a song about how we're all destined to die and rot in the ground, so I thought it was a surprising choice to get the crowd going before an energetic post-punk show. It's a contrast that works well, though, in an anti-climactic way, setting up a melancholic mood and proving the band's poetic credentials.

Fontaines really hit the spot - the audience is up for it, jumping around and bellowing out the anthemic, repetitive choruses. They have an unusual yet simple songwriting style, often repeating the same phrase over and over, but lead vocalist Grian manages to imbue each repetition with a new meaning, to my ears at least.

Pic - Tom

The lyrics are full of condensed, sparse imagery that walks a line between a poetic, literary register and a more colloquial one, often taking advantage with the band's thick Irish accents, for instance the lyric 'two men on a rickshaw pumping up a tire, and it's higher and it's higher and it's higher and it's higher'. The repetition ends up sounding like 'and a tyre and a tyre and a tyre', a playful little lyrical joke.

There's also a lot of sincere statements that seem to deal with self-belief, authenticity and the struggle of the individual in the system; 'is it too real for ya?' 'I like the way they treat me but I hate the way they use her' 'if you find yourself in the family way, give the kid more than what you got in your day: life ain't always empty' 'my childhood was small, but I'm gonna be big'. These are similar lyrical themes to other recent post-punk revival bands like Idles, for instance, but for me Fontaines feel more powerful and insightful, contemporary Irish rebel songs with a similar anarchic spirit to the Pogues; 'I don't belong to anyone, I don't wanna belong to anyone', 'I was not born into this world to do another man's bidding'. Condensed, defiant, powerful statements of intent.

Their setlist is drawn from both their released albums, the bright, hooky 'Dogrel' and the moodily atmospheric 'A Hero's Death', with its cover photo of a statue depicting the death of mythical Irish demigod Cu Chulainn. The band back up Grian with a muscular intensity - melodic guitars, jagged bass and rumbling drums, not a guitar solo in sight, everything perfectly suited to the song and filling the space in a satisfying and tasteful way. No stage banter, getting straight to the point. Their music feels uniquely Irish, and I don't think they could have sprouted from a place other than Dublin - the city's rainy cobblestones and gift of the gab imbues their songwriting with its references to James Joyce novels and shades of Yeats.

Pic Desh Kapur

It's an ecstatic show, pure rock n'roll brilliance.

Towards the end, they release a small army of giant balloons that look like eyeballs and receive an enthusiastic pummeling from the crowd, who seem full of joy. One eyeball explodes, and one gets stuck in a corner of the ceiling, gaze turned unseeingly away. Don't be like that eyeball - don't miss out on Fontaines D.C. and their explosive post-punk poetry; if you have the chance to meet their gaze, make the most of it.