When Fontaines DC last played Bristol back in December 2019, they were just starting to take off.
They had played three sets at Glastonbury Festival earlier that year and were still lapping up the praise for their superb debut album, Dogrel, which was heralded as the best of the year by both Rough Trade and BBC Radio 6 Music. But just three months later, the momentum they had built up was abruptly halted when the coronavirus pandemic forced venues across the world to shut for the foreseeable future.
Like all other bands they cruelly had to cancel their busy touring schedule, with no idea when they’d be back on the road. It must have been a crushing blow for a band enjoying such a meteoric rise, but there was an upside to it – it gave them the opportunity to work on their second album, A Hero’s Death, which was released in June 2020 to similar levels of acclaim as its predecessor. Their livers were probably grateful for the enforced hiatus, too.
It also gave the Dublin quintet the chance to fine tune their live show, and they’ve most definitely made up for lost time since touring was able to resume back in July, playing a number of major UK festivals – including a headline set at Green Man – as well as their postponed UK tour, which included a stop at Bristol’s O2 Academy on Wednesday night (October 13).
Given the show was initially due to take place on May 22 before being pushed back by the pandemic, there was plenty of anticipation and this excitement is palpable in the queues for the bars before they take to the stage. The atmosphere is electric as the backing music and lighting fades away, signalling their imminent arrival, but they don’t come on until we’ve heard Dirt in the Ground by Tom Waits. The calm before the storm.
Grian Chatten, Carlos O’Connell, Conor Curley, Conor Deegan III and Tom Coll strut onto the stage and throw the bouquets of flowers they’re holding into the crowd – only for several of them to be instantly thrown back at them – and launch into A Hero’s Death, the title track of the sophomore album. It doesn’t take long for a bit of good-natured argy-bargy to commence down the front of the venue, where the most ardent fans are packed in like sweaty sardines, as you’d expect.
After a barnstorming start, things are taken down a notch or two for the mid-section of the set, with a few of the less rocky tracks including I Was Not Born and The Lotts giving everyone, band members and crowd alike, a chance to simmer down – but we all knew what was coming; a finale jam-packed with the band’s most incendiary songs.
Chatten is typically jittery as he paces up and down the stage, wringing his hand and looking far from at ease. He barely says a word in between songs – he never has – instead frantically banging his microphone stand against the stage from time to time. He is a quite brilliant frontman; an unpredictable and captivating performer who lets the music do the talking.
Hurricane Laughter kicks off what is to be a hair-raising final 20 minutes or so, sending the crowd into a very sweaty frenzy. Too Real, from the debut album, stands out as a highlight as it ups the ante further still, before the set closes with Boys In The Better Land, the song which had an instrumental role in catapulting the band to stardom and one which just doesn’t get old, no matter how many times you hear it.
As the band take to the stage for an encore, a mosh-pit forms at the front of the crowd, with those who have formed it eagerly awaiting another moment of mayhem, but the band instead ease into Roy’s Tune, one of their more pensive numbers. The expectant pit quickly fizzles out, but those looking for one last taste of pandemonium are presented it when Chatten sings the first verse of Liberty Belle, a call-to-arms post-punk banger that pays homage to the Liberties, a neighbourhood in Dublin where several Fontaines members have called home. Cue sheer bedlam.
The performance demonstrated that the coronavirus pandemic has not thwarted Fontaines DC’s mightily impressive rise – in fact, it might just have given them a boost. There’s no question they’re one of the most exciting bands in the UK right now, and it’s fairly certain they’ll be headlining a few more festivals next summer after their European tour, which will see their fanbase grow beyond the UK.
A Hero’s Death
A Lucid Dream
Sha Sha Sha
I Was Not Born
I Don’t Belong
Living in America
Boys in the Better Land