04 October 2021
@The Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge

I was excited to be out watching live music again in Cambridge. It’s been a while, but I was well prepared with NHS COVID Pass & Facemask in hand – essential items for live music attendance in the new world! The Cambridge Corn Exchange was sold out for the Fontaines D.C. gig. It was busy and a good sign I thought not just for the Fontaines but also for the revitalisation of the Cambridge live music scene. There was a proper buzz about the place, and I sensed that people were more than ready and waiting to get into this thing tonight.

Following a lively and inspirational performance from support band and Irish art-punksters ‘The Altered Hours’, the scene was set. The students were gathered in the mosh pit and already climbing on each other’s shoulders eager and excited. The lights went down, and the roar went up. On walked recent Green Man Festival headliners (and soon to be Glastonbury headliners, I suspect) Fontaines D.C.

This was my first live experience of this 5-piece alt-rock band from Dublin and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d listened to and liked their music but wasn’t entirely sure I got it – ranting like Mark E. Smith rather than singing and poetry? The look of them when they first walked out was a bit odd too. The guitar and bass players all looked like cool male model types in stylish shirts and suits (one of them was pink) and long fashioned hair, while the lead singer, Grian Chatten, turned out in a baggy t-shirt, tracky bottoms with short scuffed up hair – it looked like they’d grabbed him off the street outside taking him away from his skateboard. But thankfully, as soon as they started playing, my concerns disappeared, and I started to understand what these boys were all about.

They didn’t say much and opened with the lead song and name of their latest album ‘A Hero’s Death’. The crowd reacted immediately with screams and started to synchronise their jumping with the thumping beat and great wall of guitar sound. I was struck by the energy and Chatten’s uncompromising Irish accented discourse over the top, and they were loud, very loud.

As we got into the set the atmosphere built as the Fontains turned out hit after hit. For a band with only two albums, it was pleasantly surprising just how many good songs they had. Chatten was trance like when he performed, pacing around in circles in his own world while reciting, but never missing a beat or word. The other band members were static apart from guitarist Carlos O’Connell who twisted and twirled in his pink suit, narrowly avoiding smacking other band members and his amp with the guitar stem as he did so.

They built up the set turning out tracks such as ‘A Lucid Dream’ and ‘Televised Mind’ from their most recent Grammy Award winning album which were real stomping crowd pleasers and very hypnotic. The students couldn’t get enough at the front and the mosh pit gradually grew - they all knew the words and were expectantly lining up ready for the next mosh pit round after taking a quick breather. It became quite chaotic. The songs were fast, melodic and trance like held together nicely by an impressive riding rock beat provided by drummer Tom Coll. I was liking everything I saw and heard.

Mid set they delivered ‘I Don’t Belong’ a haunting and slower track with a bass line that Peter Hook himself would have been proud of. This song was a lot more mellow and atmospheric, and I loved it. I could see that these boys could punk it up with the best of them, but they were also deep, very deep.

As we neared the end of the set, they threw out some bangers. ‘Hurricane Laughter’, a fast-paced, insistent, almost-anxious track that has you hooked from the start. Chatten sang the catchy lyrics in his distinctive Dublin accent, “Hurricane laughter, tearing down the plaster”. Repetitive, highly addictive, psychedelic guitar riffs from O’Connell building to a crescendo finish.
The tempo continued to pick up as they delivered the head banging ‘Too Real’ (where Chatten does his own spin on the Mark E. Smith thing mid song) and the popular ‘Big’ from their first Dodrel album. The last song before they departed was the excellent ‘Boys In The Better Land’, a tremendous rocky jangly upbeat anthem with Chatten’s bouncy lyrics spinning views on Irish politics.
They then left the stage, but it didn’t take much to get them back as the students wanted more! Chants of “one more song” beckoned the Fontaines back to a sweaty crowd who had been satisfied but were just not quite ready to go home. So, they returned and did play one more song ‘Liberty Bell’, a stomping rock tune with Chatten reflecting nostalgically about Dublin City with his lyrics. To me it sounded a bit like a Libertines song and was a great track to end on, sufficient to give the mosh pit one more hit!

Now I’m a big Oasis fan and I do listen and often agree with what Noel Gallagher says, but when he starts talking about there “not being any good original rock bands anymore”, he couldn’t be more wrong. These boys rock and they do it their way. They provide something new and inspirational that grabs you and leaves you wanting more. The punk bit works, the Irish accent and lyrical bellowing works, the singer is aggressive but poetic, and it works, the cool guitarist model types in their pink suits works. It all just works. Fontaines D.C. will be helping music fans young and old all over the UK to embrace the return of live music, and I would urge you to join in and go see them play without hesitation, you will not be disappointed.

Words and Pix by by DAN SLY /

Thanks to Rob at Sonic PR for sorting this out for us