I am currently in a phase in which I am not listening to new music. This isn’t a conscious decision – I have just become lazy. It’s easy to get comfortable with your five to seven favourite songs played on repeat, and limit yourself. Anyway, having been invited to a concert featuring three bands I had never heard of, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to broaden my listening horizons.
The FitzaFrenic – a Dublin band of Grafton-Street-Busking fame, newly returned from a stay in Australia – were playing a set in the Generator Hostel supported by Vernon Jane and Sal Vitro. While all three bands appeared quite different in their musical genres, the three shared an energy and an enthusiasm that was quite impressive.
Vernon Jane proved to be the sort of pleasantly surprising warm-up act that you know will be hard to follow. While their interactions with the audience were full of the freshness and excitement of a new band, their music was a different story altogether – they slid around between genres, from Blues to Psychedelia, and they showed an innovation and ability to experiment that suggested they knew their stuff. With dissonant guitars, ethereal effects and some extravagantly ornate drumming, the set was full of variation and originality. The vocals were amazingly powerful, ranging from a delicate trill to a guttural scream, occasionally accompanied by odd noises, creepy laughter, and general messings-about: a combined effort between the frontwoman and bassist which wouldn’t seem out of place in one of Nina Hagen’s more surreal songs. Like seeing an intriguing trailer before a film, Vernon Jane’s performance stuck with me for the rest of the night.
The second support act, by the name of Sal Vitro, describe themselves as ‘Stomp-Rock.’ While they may have been more traditional in their approach than Vernon Jane, their Classic-Rock mix of Blues, Funk, and Soul elements provided a lot of energy and good spirits. They had a striking stage presence, and their chemistry as a band was tight and dynamic. Their sound was catchy and simple up-front, but at a closer look revealed itself to be composed of deceptively intricate basslines and riffs. With lyrics that often take the form of amusing stories, and tongue-in-cheek song and album titles such as Cirque du Sleaze and The Gettin’ Older Casanova, this band don’t appear to take themselves too seriously – a very fun act, they brought a mix of light-heartedness and serious musicianship to the evening.
With such proficient support bands, The FitzaFrenic had their work cut out for them. However, this was no problem for a band of their calibre. Anyone who has happened upon them while emerging from River Island will be familiar with their ability to draw impromptu street-crowds. They are, for a start, extremely confident and charismatic to watch. Their frontman, Conor McGrath, can somehow jump around on the spot while playing a note-perfect saxophone solo. His ability to switch between said saxophone, keyboard, and vocals – sometimes appearing to play all three at once – is a diverting enough show in itself. As a band, they are exceptionally talented. Their sound varies from well-timed Ska to robust and driving Rock. Their quieter, more quirky songs, such as One Can Van Damme, are complete with complex riffs and cleverly constructed verses. The rousing hooks of up-tempo songs such as Walk Tall, in which the entire band joins in on vocals, had the crowd singing along. The FitzaFrenic are one of the few bands I can hardly imagine listening to a recording of – their live act is too much of a production, a large component of their energy being in their boisterous performance. While a slightly subdued crowd didn’t do them justice, The FitzaFrenic are wonderfully danceable.
Having fallen out of the habit of going to smaller concerts, this was a fortuitously timed gig for me. While gigs with three or more acts occasionally fall prey to a ‘blurring’ effect, by which the various bands merge into one another, there was no danger of this tonight. Three very distinctive acts made for a varied and intriguing evening.