Future of the Left, two weeks ago, in one of Dublin's newer and smaller venues, added on to the venerable Dublin gig institution of Whelan's. Previously, the only show I had seen upstairs in Whelan's was the almighty Bats, and they rocked it, so I knew it was good for a fast and noisy band. Whelan's as a drinking institution has supposedly been going since 1772, so four years before the US Declaration of Independence, and a further two hundred years before the invention of punk rock. The upstairs part is thus two thick-walled, 18th-century townhouse-type living rooms knocked together, with a bar stuck on around the corner. It has been described as having a "homely, fire-placed atmosphere", and personally I like that you can see out between the drapes over the windows onto what passes for a neon-lit, bustling city street in Dublin.
The 'Heineken Green Synergy' part of the show was the usual corporate sponsorship, entailing a somewhat reduced ticket price and the availability of only one draught lager. The press release claimed that it was FoTL's Irish debut, but they in fact appeared in April for a rather impressive show with Fight Like Apes... sponsored by Budweiser. Essentially, they've come back with some new songs, a gig-only live CD, and a better-tasting type of beer.
Support was the seemingly, initially, somewhat odd pairing of a frantic, abrasive noise-rock group with a frantic, abrasive noise-pop-punk group, So Cow. It was an unexpected pleasure, as I'm Siding With My Captors is one of my highlighted Irish releases of the year so far. Difficult enough to describe: "Mostly I've seen it described as lo-fi indie pop stuff, sort of like Pavement, but what hit me from hearing this song is the sort of early 90s ska-punk/pop from San Francisco; like a mix of Green Day's first two albums and Operation Ivy/Common Rider". Live, they're a treat. The one-man-band part of the band, singer and guitar player Brian Kelly - of Tuam, Galway via Seoul, South Korea - sung and pogoed his heart out, while the excellent rhythm section thrashed their way through desultory, frenetic pop tunes. Here's a live version of 'Casablanca', from So Cow's first album, and a track, 'Greetings', from I'm Siding With My Captors:
"...I'll get a tattoed x on my hand,
adopt the traits of Buddhist monks
get hip! with all your nomenclature
compromise with your drug culture..."
So Cow - 'Greetings', from I'm Siding With My Captors
The headliners Future of the Left, a three piece with members of former Welsh punk bands Mclusky and Jarcrew, essentially work on stage as a comic double act between bassist Kelson Mathias and lead singer/guitarist/keyboard player Andy Falkous. They're a very, very sarcastic band. And then there's the music. I ended up quite enjoying their set the last time I saw them, although it seemed to drag on a bit in the middle; and I occasionally put on last year's/this year's (here's the AV Club review [A-] of the album's US release in January) full-length, Curses, for a spin, but I've never gotten into the band the same was either Mclusky or Shooting at Unarmed Men. Nevertheless, their music does have its moments of outstanding creativity and forcefulness which, when combined with the immediacy of a reverb-drenched, sweat-soaked live performance, make for damn good punk rock.
Below are a couple of songs, following the pattern above - one a live recording, the other an album version of a particularly good song. 'Manchasm' is one of Future of the Left's distinctive 'keyboard' songs - the tour journal on the band's Myspace, written by Falco, has at the end of 2007 a best-of list including "Best Guy in a Big Black T-Shirt Storming Out When We Start Playing the Keyboard Songs" (it was in Sheffield) - and the single and video are posted here. Second, 'I Need to Know How To Kill A Cat' was also a B-side to the 'Small Bones Small Bodies' single in the same post, where I described it as "Super-rhythmic, with strong echoes of 80s punk and post-punk - e.g. Minutemen and, of course, Husker Du's 'How To Skin A Cat' (which violates the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics, but it's a metaphor for Capitalism, so that's ok). Er. 'I Need To Know How To Kill A Cat' - good song." However, it was also pointed out to me that it sounds like a Fugazi song; a tight, circular guitar rhythm and drum beat underlying frantic, anxious vocals (which are rather more Mclusky than MacKaye). And as was also pointed out, if it's good for a Fugazi song, it's a very good song indeed.
Future of the Left - 'Manchasm' from Last Night I Saved Her From Vampires live CD (to be released on 4AD on a future date)
Future of the Left - 'I Need To Know How To Kill A Cat', from Curses
There is a third song I would have liked to post, the ritual encore 'Cloak the Dagger', the "extended multipart freakout... a very un-Mclusky level of psychedelic instrumental abandon" (Tiny Mix Tapes review of FotL supporting Against Me! in the Webster Hall, New York). Unfortunately, the best part about it (I think) is the rumbling, old-school punk bass sound, that reminds me of nothing more than the Ramones' first album and 'Havana Affair', doesn't come across too well on tape. Or at least, nowhere near as good as it does live, which is where, in the total, visceral, full-on physical and disappearing-down-an-internal-stairway-with-(part-of)-the-drum-kit theatrical kind of way that you need to appreciate it. Like, to continue the Fugazi metaphor, which is actually kind of appropriate in this context, listening to Happy Go Licky, the record never doing for me what just seeing them on YouTube did.
(Another Dublin gig-related institution: it's mostly where I go to get tickets, but it's also a gloomy basement (metal) record store. I heard a Trinity College law prof use his experience of accidentally going in there as an analogy for the difficulty of the marginalised in society in accessing legal aid/advice. Yeah)