“Dublin in the rain is mine / A pregnant city with a Catholic mind”: a declaration that runs hot like poetry and goodbyes in the blood of the Irish. Tonight, on the eve of St Patrick’s Day – the first since the pandemic began – marks a hero’s return.
Fontaines DC know that you can move anywhere you like, but you can’t outrun the city limits of where you grew up. Since their inaugural debut record Dogrel in 2019, the five-piece have dragged the Irish music scene by the scruff of its neck into modernity. Building something from the smoke, ash and nerves of their ever-changing city, the five-piece forced the cold, unflinching stare of post-punk to embrace radical empathy.
Like any great poets, a subtle change of tone, the striking of a chord, or the gravity in a choice of word, can run the gamut from bleakness to beauty, from riotous, whiskey-sloshing anthems to bittersweet sentiments about their conflicted feelings for their home which cut so sharp they make you wince.
There’s little wonder that the group bonded over a shared passion for Joycean poetry, scribbling out verses on sticky pub tables and reciting them back to each other. Now, they are to the young people of Dublin who James Joyce was to them; woven into the complicated tapestry of the city which, for better or worse, bleeds into everything they do. With whiskey in hand, the crowd raise their drinks to the boys who have come home.
Held at The Complex, this show of 200 people is a capacity that Fontaines DC may never perform in front of again: the size that fits them, after their performance at London’s Alexandra Palace last year, is 10,000. But even if you weren’t among the handful of devotees in rapture at frontman Grian Chatten’s feet, the show was built upon a foundation of connectivity, not exclusivity. Brought to life by Jameson, the companion for your old-fashioneds and the right-hand man for St Patrick’s Day since its establishment in 1780, the performance is being livestreamed around the world as part of their ‘Widen The Circle’ campaign. Fostering sparks between kindred spirits, over a glass of Jameson they want to bring people closer and make the world feel a smaller place.
Chatten paces manically across the stage, the guitars riling him up like a taunt. He fixes people with a blue-eyed stare, grips onto the microphone with almost religious fervour, before thumping the stand on the stage like an impulse, a flag planted in Dublin soil. Among the anthems from the almost hallowed record, Dogrel, including the thunderous “Boys in the Better Land” and “Big”, as well as the hymnal “You Said” from its successor, A Hero’s Death, Fontaines DC also give a flavour from their third album which is just on the horizon, Skinty Fia.
The lead singles, “Jackie Down The Line”, one of the band’s most infectious offerings with a bass line that digs its nails under your skin, and “I Love You”, a troubled, pacing track that is as much an ode to Dublin as anyone else, are met with excitement from the crowd as if they were deeply familiar.
The band also perform a cover of The Cure’s timeless “Just Like Heaven”. Wrapping his tattooed arms around the microphone like a lover, his rendition is underpinned with longing, a dream just a little out of reach, while still evoking rose-tinted joy in the chorus as if he were indulging in a memory on the cobblestones of the Dublin streets from bygone years. Their final sentiment is taken from the titular track, “A Hero’s Death”, with the statement – or prayer: “Life ain’t always empty / Life ain’t always empty”. And in these moments of unity, of togetherness, in that, there is truth.