I’m late for the party. But then again, I don’t follow the latest bands as much as I once did. But sometimes, word gets 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 that time. In this case, Fontaines D.C. was promoting their debut album, Dogrel, and celebrating winning the title of 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) in their repertoire, their mini-gig at Rough Trade this evening, where they play eight tunes, 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 whole gig. Nevertheless, it certainly made me want to check them out at a full concert in the future.
Fontaines D.C. is a unit of five young men from Ireland named after Johnny Fontaine from The Godfather. I don’t know if this implies they foresee themselves as failed entertainers, who have to use 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 will.
The band is blessed with a charismatic frontman, Grian Chatten, who strikes a winning combination of studied pose and sincere quirkiness. 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 movements alternate 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 a confident swagger and staring out audience members with affected menace. Like any great frontman, he is intriguing to watch, and his extensive movements never happen at the expense of his expressive singing.
Fontaine D.C. have great songs. 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. 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. comes across as current and new, as indeed the band is, and the band’s songs don’t feel like rip-offs. They got their own thing going on, and I’m sure the crowd agrees, from grey-haired Gen X’ers to fresh-faced Millennials.
Towards the end, there is some mild moshing going on, but nothing aggressive or 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 excellent:
‘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 showreel, 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. On Boys in the Better Land, the band shout out to James Joyce, when Chatten belts out, ‘…and the radio is all about a runway model with a face like a sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel’.
The songs are like short tales with a Dublin backdrop, where raindrops of Romanticism pour down on 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 to find out. He could be rhyming ‘Robespierre’ with ‘Daycare’ and ‘Creme de la Mer’ for all I care.
In the first song of the set, Hurricane Laughter, Chatten informs the crowd repeatedly that there is ‘no connection available’, but he’s wrong; it’s clear that the connection between band and audience is loud and clear.
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