Above: A shot by photographer Steve Gullick, taken from the band’s website.
Last Friday the suicide and self-harm awareness charity Pieta House held a fundraising gig in Dublin’s Vicar St featuring a host of Irish acts. The line-up included Limerick-based hip-hop collective Rusangano Family, followed by four-piece folk innovators Lynched, with the near-peerless Girl Band headlining the event. Benny Profane sent us in this review.
Now as my presence at this show was basically a last-minute who-cares-if-I’m-by-myself-a-good-gig-is-a-good-gig-is-a-good-gig sort-of decision, I coordinated my arrival at the venue with the intended start-time of the headliners and therefore didn’t catch either of the support acts; but according to the lad I spoke to in the smoking area who works in the Spar up the road from me (recently turned into a Mace; don’t ask – it’s too soon), both support acts went down well with the less than full crowd. So in direct contravention of basic journalistic principals and the unwritten codes that dictate such reports this review will focus purely on the performance of the headliners; the Golden Boys of Irish noise-rock, Girl Band.
The quiet Gods of providence were smiling as I, pint-in-hand, entered the down-stairs standing area to the instantly recognisable opening drum-beat of Lawman; one of those unmistakably egocentric moments when grand proceedings appear to be orchestrated around, about and in reference to your humble self. The after-glow of this fanciful delusion served as a happy intro to the performance.
As is often the case with rowdy Dublin gigs the pit immediately launched into a full-scale attack on itself; transforming into a heaving, pogo-ing mass and creating an unsustainable frenzy that left me wondering when exactly I’ll begin to see the inevitable retreat of individuals away from the madness; people who either could not foresee the instigation of such destruction or greatly over-estimated their own pit-related credentials. This question was answered just after the third song when I saw a pale, limp and slightly traumatised looking figure basically float past me while loosely draped over her friends buttressing frame.
Visually the performance was marked by the strange contrast that existed between the near-statuesque demeanour of bassist Daniel Fox and guitarist Alan Duggan compared to the manic exuberance of front-man Dara Kiely.
Channelling all the frenetic energy of Ian Curtis with a touch of the showmanship of a troubled Thom York, Kiely whales and screams and spits (quite a lot of spitting – not particularly aimed at anyone/thing; just general spitting) his way through the hour-long set.
The now very sweaty and partially defrocked crowd are treated to a collection of Girl Band’s best known songs with brief sing-alongs initiated for Pears for Lunch (“ayyee loook crap with my tawwp awwff”) and the aforementioned Lawman – where the sardonic bite of the line ‘He starts every sentence with: / “I know I’m not a racist but…” has a darkish deadpan humour that has probably captured the imagination of cynic-prone millennials the world over.
The flurry of distorted electronic sounds coming from Duggan’s guitar and Fox‘s bass brings a level of mad static texture to the overall impression; with rhythms and back-beats contributed by Kiely’s distinct and often repetitive vocals and the crisp symbols and steady bellowing of Adam Faulkner’s drums.
This unique dichotomy between rhythm and sound seems to be the locus for much of what is so interesting about Girl Band. It’s a simple formula but each element must be perfectly judged in order for them to be mutually complimentary. The result is like a simulacrum of some forgotten post-punk aesthetic that fuses pummelling noise-rock with the groove-orientated inflections of modern dance music; or something like that.
As the gig went on people, pints and items of clothing were flung about the place with reckless abandon. Kiely’s performance became ever more abrasive and contorted. Every unleashed scream was accompanied by an aggressive tug at his own shirt by his left hand that was clasped onto the garment as if for dear life. This gesture looks troubling and weird and curious and began to inspire speculative ruminations concerning the shady symbolic significance of said gesture re: self-restraint vs. self-expression. Whatever the reason, the stitching and buttons of the many tugged shirt held-up surprisingly well.
Kiely’s vocals defy physiological sense. How someone could deliver that type of performance up to a hundred times a year makes me wince with pain at the very thought; and so I was lead to the natural conclusion that the man’s vocal chords must have the texture and durability of industrial strength sandpaper. Kiely’s voice has an enigmatic quality alternating as it can between child-like innocence and child-like my-soul-is-in-the-possession-of-the-devil-and-he-now-speaks-through-me madness.
In between songs there are brief indistinct mumblings from Kiely that I assume were banterish and whimsical and generally thankful but at around the half way mark one of these inter-song parleys went on a little bit longer than usual and recognising this the crowd began to quiet and suppliantly lent him their ears.
What transpired was a short, snipped but very sincere admission of the troubles that Kiely has had with mental health in the past and a thank you to all who supported him in those times; a humble gesture that will resonate with anyone who has been affected by similar issues and also a welcome reminder of the reason the gig was even happening.
In the second half of the concert the droneful somnambulations of In Plastic swept the venue with its hypnotic and building crescendo and the straight-edged anthem Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?, had the pit once again hyperventilating with exertion.
When the band finished they are showered for one last time with cheers, whistles, launched cups of beer and the odd t-shirt. From what I know they abide by a generally held post-punk tradition of not partaking in the tradition of encores and this was the case on Friday. Interestingly, the crowd did not indulge in the usual ceremonial chants of ‘one more tune’; possibly out of exhaustion but also potentially out of sheer contentment.