posted on August 04, 2009 08:09
Day One of Castlepalooza 2009
Review Snapshot: The first day of this boutique festival was a mixed bag, a kind of rollercoaster tour of today's Irish indie. Altogether a great night, with just one or two low points.
The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10
This reviewer has always had a kind of love/hate relationship with Castlepalooza: though in all honesty, it’s not the fault of the festival. The first year it was my cheap, leaking tent and 14 hours of heavy rain; this year, the tent situation was circumvented by booking a very un-rock’n’roll B&B, it was the stomach upset, seemingly mild food poisoning from eating a dodgy chicken burger at the festival, which led to me shuffling off early on Sunday back to said B&B.
It’s hard to criticise a festival as selfless as this one. With a conspicuous lack of big corporate sponsorship (with the exception of HMV and Metro, whose presence were still unobtrusive), the whole weekend is run by volunteers and all to raise money for the restoration of the beautiful castle at which it is held. Not only that, but with the majority of all acts at the festival Irish, the organisers showed themselves to be dedicated to Irish music. On the other hand it is a boutique festival, and though eco-shops, workshops and a spa are a unique idea for inclusion in a festival, this one has begun already to descend into cheap gimmickry.
I finally reached Charleville Castle in time to catch Holy Roman Army at the HMV stage. Disappointingly for such a hotly-tipped band, they completely failed to make any kind of impression beyond leaving you vaguely questioning the point of having the sax just doubling the synth through most of their final songs. The Ambience Affair however, made a far greater impression by playing one of their best gigs so far. Some problems with sound and some beside-stage carpentry meant a delayed start, but The Ambience Affair simply and utterly absorbed the attention of the audience. A musician who has the layered structure of rock down to a fine art, Jamie Clarke’s guitar loops and samples really do create an inimitable ambience, part Final Fantasy, part small-club band.
Staying in the HMV tent after such an uplifting experience was perhaps ill-advised. The introduction promised an affair that was ‘the most deborched…and lecherous’… really The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live was nothing but embarrassing, for the people involved and everybody watching. Cue quick exit to the main stage and Angel Pier, a band with a lot of promise but a disappointing lack of stage presence. They are nonetheless a considerably stronger force than even one year ago, Angel Pier have a melody-driven pop-rock mix which is clearly still maturing.
Dark Room Notes, long a favourite of Cluas, didn’t disappoint. Even though their singer looked more trendy banker than rock god, the band is one of the few who can create an album-perfect sound without compromising live energy: energy is what DRN is all about, and while We Love You Dark Matter was one of the best releases of the year, they have definitively proven that their electro-indie was meant for the stage. Similarly, next band Super Extra Bonus Party simply live for performance. SEBP, though fallen quiet since their initial splash on the scene a few years ago, have a sound that is surprisingly refined and immaculately honed for the stage: club beats vie with heavy distortion and thumping rock basslines. In fact, SEBP would easily have qualified for putting on the best show of the weekend, were one - if not two-fifths - of the band being incredibly annoying onstage at all times (headbanging and generally cavorting in what just seemed a very contrived way).
From here, day one of Castlepalooza began to go downhill, starting with a steep dip: Skibunny. With a complete absence of a personality of any kind, the kind of lyrics that most people stop writing at age 14, some simply quite poor music and some cringey on-stage interaction, the duo’s only redeeming feature was their halfway-decent backing tracks. Never again. It was hard to fault the headlining David Kitt’s performance, but easy to fault the choice of line-up that led to his slot. As always he proved himself a brilliant musician and songwriter, assisted by Somadrone’s Neil O’Conner and playing some mean geetar. But as the build-up of heavy beats through Dark Room Notes, Super Extra Bonus Party and Project Jenny Project Jan made way for subtle grooves, loud aggression for nuance, and the crowd’s gentle inebriation for all-out pissed, Kitt simply failed to hold sway with most.