Ahead of this week’s Brit Awards, Dublin post-punks Fontaines D.C. graced The Dome club in Tufnell Park, London for a special one-off charity gig performance. Watching the show, we had some thoughts…
The privilege of seeing a band in a venue they’ve long since outgrown makes for a special atmosphere
Fontaines D.C.’s last London show, in late October, was staged at the 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace, 3.5 miles further north of the 600-capacity Dome, the larger of the two venues housed in a building formerly home to Victorian-era swimming baths. This booking isn’t a reflection on the fickle nature of music industry success, however, for the Dublin post-punk quintet are here for an under-play gig for the War Child charity, one of several intimate shows being staged in the run up to the BRIT Awards, with Bastille, Anne Marie, Craig David and Damon Albarn among the other participating artists. Tickets for this gig understandably sold out in a matter of minutes, and buoyed by a raucous reception from a fired-up, rambunctious, good-natured Friday night crowd fully aware that they lucked out in scoring admission, the Dubliners are definitely waving, not drowning tonight.
For tonight at least, north London is green
Twice a year, dependent on either Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur emerging victorious from the North London Derby, social media is awash with posts asserting that this area of the capital is Red or White. Tonight, given the clear preponderance of Irish accents in the venue, north London is definitely Green. The title of Holloway-raised John Lydon‘s first autobiography, No Irish No Blacks No Dogs, referenced the overt discrimination emigrants from the 32 Counties often encountered in post-war London, and with four of Fontaines D.C. having moved ‘across the water’ in more recent times (bassist Conor Deegan III resides in Paris), they’re acutely aware that prejudice and suspicion still lingers, as frontman Grian Chatten acknowledged in a recent Rolling Stone interview. A number of songs on the band’s much-anticipated third album explicitly reference the Irish experience in England, and giving that collection an Irish language title, Skinty Fia, a colloquialism roughly translated as “the damnation of the deer”, is itself a statement of defiance in the face of anti-Irish sentiments. Once upon a time the Irish were afraid to raise their voices in London, for fear of betraying their roots and inviting abuse: no more.
Slotting three Skinty Fia songs into the set two months ahead of the album’s release is an indication of Fontaines D.C.’s growing confidence
Since the advent of file sharing, top tier bands have displayed a marked reluctance to perform unreleased material live, fearful that a shonky phone recording uploaded to YouTube may cause irreparable damage to their brand. Happily, Fontaines D.C. have no time for such caution. At their Alexandra Palace show in October, the quintet kicked off a three-song encore bow by giving a live debut to I Love You, the penultimate track on Skinty Fia. Tonight sees a premiere of another as-yet-unreleased album track, Roman Holiday, a song Grian Chatten told RollingStone.com is about “wanting to go out and embrace London as an Irish person”: hopefully the cheeky lyric “I don’t wanna see the Queen” won’t lead to his severed head being stuck on a spike on London Bridge.
If we’re blessed with an actual festival season this year, Jackie Down The Line will be the summer’s darkest singalong
With feel-bad lyrics such as “I will hurt you, I'll desert you” and “I will hate you, I'll debase you”, Fontaines D.C.’s new single Jackie Down The Line isn’t an obvious choice for a bonding summer singalong, but the fact that everyone in The Dome sings ever word along with Grian Chatten shows that it’s destined to be a future crowd favourite. According to bassist Deegan, when the band premiered their new album for their manager, his first reaction to hearing their new material was “Lads, this is the darkest shit you’ve ever written!” which suggests there'll be plenty more grit amid the poetry on Skinty Fia. We’re very much here for it.
Fontaines D.C.’s biggest opportunities may lie across the Atlantic
Opening your debut album, as Fontaines D.C. did on 2019’s Dogrel, with a song boasting the chorus “My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big” is a fabulous statement of intent. That the band were flown to New York to perform Jackie Down The Line on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on the week of the single’s release is a measure of the buzz surrounding them in America, as is the fact that they’ve just expanded their upcoming North American tour, with a second night added at the 1,800 capacity Brooklyn Steel club in New York, two nights booked at the 1,100 capacity Regent Theater in Los Angeles and a venue upgrade in Denver, Colorado. Back in 1983, touring America on their third album, a young Dublin post-punk band named U2 signalled both their upward mobility and their ambition by boldly booking a date at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 10 miles outside Denver: watching Fontaines D.C. smash through Big, Hurricane Laughter, I Was Not Born, Roman Holiday and Boys In The Better Land in quick succession to ever-increasing rapture, their potential to gatecrash the mainstream in a nation slowly awakening to a new generation of British and Irish guitar bands is undeniable.
However it unfolds, Fontaines D.C. are going to have fun with 2022
The final words the charismatic Grian Chatten sings onstage tonight are “the real thing’s here”, the conclusion of the title track of his band’s acclaimed second album A Hero’s Death. In its original context, it’s a teasingly ambiguous, deliberately playful line, one which can be read as sincere or sarcastic, and at the end of a thrilling hour of live music it’s delivered with a metaphorical wink, a subtle reminder that to hype up any band as The Next Big Thing is to invite ridicule in the future. Fontaines D.C. are far too smart and self-aware to start singing their own praises, but as a visibly buzzing, sweat-soaked crowd spills back out into the cold night air, it’s clear that there’s going to be an awful lot of people doing exactly that on their behalf this year.