London, Monday December 2, 2019
I’m late to the party. But then again, I don’t follow the latest bands as much as I once did. But sometimes word get through about a ‘new sensation’ or upcoming potential legend in the making. I’d seen the name, Fontaines D.C., here and there but hadn’t paid attention until I saw they were doing one of those performances at Rough Trade (East) that consists of a shortened gig and signing of the current record the band is promoting at that time. In this case Fontaines D.C. were promoting their debut album, Dogrel, and celebrating that it had been named Rough Trade’s Album of the Year.
As the group is still relatively new and only has one album’s worth of songs (plus a few extras) their mini-gig at Rough Trade this evening where they play 8 songs, is not that much shorter than their ‘real’ gigs which seem to be only 3-4 songs longer, so it almost feels like we’re getting a full gig. Nevertheless, it certainly made me want to check them out at a proper concert in the future.
So who is Fontaines D.C.?
A unit of five young men from Ireland, apparently named after the character Johnny Fontaine from The Godfather. I don’t know if this implies they foresee themselves as failed entertainers who have to make use of their mob connections and decapitated horse heads to try and revive their careers. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, and for now at least, it certainly doesn’t look like it.
The band is blessed with a charismatic frontman, Grian Chatten, though it’s hard to tell how much is a studied pose and how much is sincere quirkiness. I suspect a mixture of both. He keeps staring at the bright light above him, sometimes hitting out at it, as if feigning discomfort of being in the spotlight. His body movement alternates between an erratic boxer waiting for a fight and a bored child making faces and bouncing around. Perhaps this is how he gets himself in the ‘frontman zone’, by turning nervous energy into confident swagger, and staring out members of the audience with affected menace. Like any great frontman he is intriguing to watch and his extensive movements never happen at expense of his singing.
We all know that cool rock stars tend to down-play their cool factor and up-play their affected weirdness, because they know that’ll make them appear even cooler. It’s a funny circle of pretence, all for the sake of being cool while pretending not to be cool. It’s all part of the rock star game and it works. In addition, Fontaine D.C.’s songs are great. They are a part of a current crop of bands that have tapped into the sound and atmosphere (and look?) of bands like The Fall, Echo and the Bunnymen or Joy Division, and it’s hard not to get the sense of having stepped into a soundscape of the alternative rock scene from the late seventies/early eighties.
Regardless, Fontaines D.C. come across as current and new, as indeed they are, and their songs don’t feel like rip-offs. The band got their own thing going on and I’m sure the crowd agree, from grey haired Gen X’ers to fresh faced Millennials and whatever other category of humans that are in attendance at this gig.
Towards the end there is some mild moshing going on with a few bumps and pushes but nothing nothing approaching aggressive for violent. Is Polite Moshing a thing – ‘Poshing’, perhaps?
I am often not able to pick out lyrics from songs I don’t know (perhaps because of a lifelong reduced hearing on one ear), but when I look up the lyrics online afterwards I can read what I couldn’t hear properly – these lyrics are really good:
‘Dublin in the rain is mine, A pregnant city with a catholic mind, My childhood was small, But I’m gonna be big’ (Big).
‘A sell-out is someone who becomes a hypocrite in the name of money, An idiot is someone who lets their education do all their thinking… Charisma is exquisite manipulation, and money is a sandpit of the soul’ (Chequeless Reckless).
‘You’re so real, I’m a show reel, You work for money and the rest you steal’ (Sha Sha Sha).
The first line in the song, Too Real, (‘The winter evening settles down’) references T.S. Eliot’s poem Preludes, and on Boys in the Better Land, the band give a shout out to James Joyce when Chatten belts out, ‘…and the radio is all about a runway model with a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel’.
The songs are very much little tales with a Dublin backdrop where raindrops of Romanticism pour down on the the old town, only to disappear down the sewer of Realism. There’s a new song called Lucid Dream in which Chatten appears to be rhyming ‘Voltaire’ with ‘Chair’ and ‘Despair’, but knowing my hearing I might have got that wrong. I can only wait ‘till the lyrics appear somewhere on the internet for me to find out if I heard it right. He could be rhyming ‘Robespierre’ with ‘Daycare’ and ‘Creme de la Mer’, either way, the song sounds great.
In the first song of the set, Hurricane Laughter, Chatten informs the crowd over and over that there is ‘no connection available’, but judging by the reaction from the people around me it’s clear that the connection between band and audience is very much available.
Fontaines D.C. setlist
1. Hurricane Laughter
2. Chequeless Reckless
3. Sha Sha Sha
4. Lucid Dream (new song)
5. Too Real
6. Liberty Belle
7. Boys in the Better Land