The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


Villagers, The Ambience Affair & Others (HWCH, live in Temple Bar, Dublin)

Review Snapshot:  

The Cluas Verdict? 8.5 out of 10

Full Review:
While my intention had been to make my way between various venues during the first day of Hard Working Class Heroes 2009, a strained muscle (one week before my first marathon) meant that I was restricted in my endeavours.  It was clear early on that the place to be was Andrew's Lane which featured three of the four bands I really wanted to see tonight anyway.  While it was disappointing not to be able to see Dark Room Notes' set in The Button Factory, the intensity of Subplots and the raw talent of both The Ambience Affair and Villagers more than made up for it.

There was quite a chatty crowd in place as Subplots took to the stage in Andrew's Lane.  The band's record, Nightcycles, is one of my favourites this year.  However, I was worried that their carefully crafted songs might struggle to make an impact in a live arena.  Not for the first time, I was wrong.  Indeed, such was the level of intensity in their performance that those same songs I described earlier this year as being not 'instantly accessible' stood tall and screamed for both your attention and adulation.  Despite this, there was a nagging sense that the band would have benefited from a later time-slot, when the audience might not have been more interested in discussing making blind dates through Facebook, but that is hardly their fault.

Dead Flags
I can appreciate pop music as much as the next person.  I also appreciate comedy.  Why then, did I find this band so objectionable?  Perhaps it was because every song, from Too Much Love to Give through to Let's Start A Fire seemed to contain nothing but thinly veiled sexual innuendo; single entendres were the order of the day.  One song, the aforementioned Let's Start A Fire was actually irritatingly catchy but so too is Take That's (a band probably never mentioned on CLUAS before now) Patience, that doesn't mean I'd be rushing out to see them live either.  If Dead Flags want lessons on being a comedy band, they could do worse than check out the new(ish) Flight of the Conchord's DVD.

The Ambience Affair
Ever since I saw this two-piece playing Road Records at the launch of HWCH 2009, I was desperate to see them live again.  I wasn't disappointed.  Jamie Clarke and Marc Gallagher build sonic walls on stage that bands three times their size could only dream of.  For those of you not familiar with The Ambience Affair, Clarke builds songs with endless looping of both his acoustic guitar and vocals while Gallagher (a contender for Ireland's best drummer) provides the heartbeat for their musical behemoth.  Songs such as Fragile Things and the newly written Lost at the Start could not fail but to absorb the audience who, by this stage, seemed much more appreciative of the fact that there was a band on stage.

It was pretty clear from 20 minutes before they came on stage that Villagers were the band to see at this year's Hard Working Class Heroes.  If the pressure of being hotly tipped by almost every musical publication in the country is weighing on Conor O'Brien and his band mate's shoulders, they're doing a very good job of hiding it.  Indeed, the former Immediate frontman appears to be completely at home in front of his enraptured audience; wielding his guitar like some emotional shotgun, taking musical pot shots at the souls of his faithful. Given the contrasting power and delicacy of O'Brien's voice, it can be all too easy to overlook the important contribution of his fellow Villagers.  Their role is crucial here, providing the flesh to O'Brien's lyrical bones.  Stand-out for me tonight is Home with its multi-part vocal harmonies and red raw lyrics.  For once, believe the hype.

Steve O'Rourke

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Nuggets from our archive

2003 - Witnness 2003, a comprehensive review by Brian Kelly of the 2 days of what transpired to be the last ever Witnness festival (in 2004 it was rebranded as Oxegen when Heineken stepped into the sponsor shoes).