The 1st CLUAS.com gig
Isaac Butt, 21 Dec. '99
Paying to watch unsigned bands can be a little like playing Russian roulette.
Sometimes you're not quite sure if it was a life-affirming experience, but you
enjoyed the immediate intensity of it. Other times, you can escape traumatised
but unharmed, having spent the whole night hoping the gun would actually go off
just to put you out of your misery. Then there are those rarer times when you
emerge refreshed and energised, knowing you've seen something special and
feeling glad to have been there when it all started. The December Cluas gig
(Tues 21st) at the Isaac Butt was one of these rare occasions.
The night opened with a cache of mellow tunes from the other-worldly duo Charis (John Kineely and Eoin McCann). Audience reaction to their full, resonant sound was instant and appreciative, and grew audibly more positive through the set. An undercurrent of melodic, strumming baselines were the perfect platform for Kineely's rich, soulful voice, and the vibe filling the room was one of understated but undeniable promise. Finishing off their own set they encored with a delicately transformed cover of Van Morrison's 'Moondance', a performance even the Man himself would have appreciated. Punters differed on what exactly you could call their music - Crosby, Stills and Nash meets Van the Man meets a strumming Keith Richards. Offcentre, aching, and right on right on.
Next up came a set from Aengus Devine on guitar and keyboards and Malcolm O'Brien on guitar. Immediately we were taken to a different branch of the pop tree, with lashings of strongly melodic, gently-paced pop. Devine's songwriting and his voice remind of many great songwriters whose path has been directed into the complexity of a song, offering simple foot-tapping tunes to invite the listener into much deeper water- the likes of Paul Brady sprang to mind on the night. However Devine's voice is also accessible - catching the ear softly and effortlessly. A mid-set switch from guitar to keyboards by Devine took us into a realm of pop music which has been sidelined for much of the nineties - probably because so few people can do it well. O'Brien and Devine are amongst that few, and closed a seamless performance with an accomplished cover of 'Come together'.
The final act of the night were Stoat, a three-piece made up of Cormac Parle on bass and vocals, John Hearne on guitar and vocals, and Stephen on drums. While the preceding acts had a largely semi-acoustic, low key sound, Stoat opened their set with a thunder-cracking rock 'n' roll cover of 'Girls just wanna have fun'. By the close of that first number, everyone in the venue had reset their heads for new musical territory. Crash-landing somewhere between the Pixies, Beck and the fellow who wrote the tune for 'Wanderly Wagon', Stoat are definitely navigating unchartered waters. The Frankenstein which is the music of Stoat actually sounds nothing like Beck, but the surgical method is the same. Lumps of musical flesh from American mainstream rock like the J. Geils Band is sewn onto the bones of Jamaican Reggae and then brought to life with a nervous system transplanted from the Pixies' 'Surfer Rosa'. But despite its raw intensity the music never descends into chaos - the three Stoatmen keeping it tight and energised much like The Foo Fighters.
Sadly, on the night Stoat were let down by the PA system, which seemed ill-prepared and muffled at higher volumes. Perhaps the soundman anticipated a bigger, muffle-soaking crowd to temper the sound, but whatever the reason, it detracted from an otherwise great performance. Overall punter reaction was out and out positive, despite the late sound problems.
If the Cluas gigs can maintain this kind of quality line-up, less-than anticipated crowds will not be a problem in the future. This kind of music in this kind of setting is just what Dublin needs right now - for if anything will get Dubliners to start risking their spons on live music again, it's a rolling gig which guarantees good music from everyone involved. Roll on February.