30th November | SWX
Photos: Lee Ramsey
Louche and loud, loving and literary, Fontaines D.C. capped a year of barely putting a foot wrong with a Saturday night set at SWX full of security-scaring infectiousness and devastating stillness. The boys were back in town. Bristol felt like even more of a ‘better land’ than ever.
Entering to the strains of Dean Martin’s ‘My Rifle, My Pony & Me’, you wondered whether they might have been about to give us a performance to match Martin’s ‘King of Cool’ Rat Pack swagger. Then on came Grian Chatten, resplendent in tuxedo, bow-tie, Brylcreemed quiff in homage to the Hollywood glamour Martin embodied, and broke into a rendition of ‘How D’ya Like Your Eggs In The Morning’…
Resplendent in an oversized grey jumper that he could have stolen from Robert Smith and that Niall O’Flaherty would have been devastated to lose, Chatten emerged after his more smart-casual bandmates, grabbed the mic stand, hammered it several times into the floor, raised it back up to sensible singing height and glared. The first plastic beer glass went projectile within the amped crowd before the opening note had even been struck. This was engagement, territory marking, the sort of behaviour people would have displayed seconds before shops opened on Black Friday. But this Saturday, a day on, we’d spent our money on tickets and merchandise. No big telly for us. Chequeless and reckless, we were ready to expend all we had on collecting memories full of sound and fury.
Watching Chatten was anthropological, fascinating. He stalked before and after songs, shaking his hands, like a caged tiger with an especially pernicious paper cut. Chatten must be bloody awful at musical statues. If he were to sing any Dean Martin songs, they would have to be Dublin-drenched reworks of ‘Mr Booze’ or an especially lairy version of ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head’. For anyone who’d enjoyed them at The Downs Festival, or even in a Glastonbury field, seeing them now indoors – contained, enclosed – surely felt like they were in their perfect habitat. Somehow, having walls to bounce off and a roof to raise compliments their headache-to-heartache, post-drunk post-punk chaos.
And how riotous it was. They opened with ‘Hurricane Laughter’, evoking the meteorological phenomenon the song names. ‘Too Real’ was even more sonically aggressive than its marginally less threatening cousin on the album. These erupted along with similarly frenetic and insurgent salvos from Dogrel, such as ‘Sha Sha Sha’, ‘Liberty Belle’ and ‘Chequeless Reckless’, as well as non-album favourites, ‘Lucid Dream’ and ‘A Hero’s Death’.
Above all, through thirteen splendid songs, the contrasting tenderness that these five unshackled crazies could create hit the hardest. Even amidst the onslaught of ‘Lucid Dream’ they hit us with the wisdom of “Don’t get stuck in the past” and the heart-rending simplicity of “Tell your mother that you love her.” ‘The Lotts’, ‘Roy’s Tune’ and ‘Dublin City Sky’ confirmed that they can do quiet and contemplative. ‘Television Screens’ was a high-point, Chatten’s prolonged and primal ‘Aaaaaaaaahhhhh’ towards the end was charged with the poignant intensity of Ian Curtis.
They kept the big dogs on the leash until late. ‘Big’ closed the set, with a thumping, extended, kick-drum intro, before Chatten barked, “My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big.” Agreed, Grian. ‘Boys In The Better Land’ sat eleventh in the setlist. As soon as Chatten was tooled up with tambourine, we knew what was coming. Mid-song, the barrier security guard, stage left, looked more alarmed by a crowd’s movement than I’ve ever seen at a show. Grian Chatten surveyed the lawful disorder that the band had successfully incited. And just for a split second, just the once, he smiled.
See Fontaines D.C. play ‘Boys In The Better Land’ live at Glastonbury here: