Updated: Jul 11
After the race, a little rain and then adoration for the Dubliners. Julia Mason reviews a triumphant homecoming for Dublin's hardest working band.
Homecomings can be pressure tests, especially if delayed by two years. Mounting expectations and nerves for all involved. Fontaines D.C. were set to play Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens in July 2020, a triumphant homecoming due to the success of debut album Dogrel. In the intervening 24 months a lot has happened. Two albums released: A Hero’s Death had a delayed release at the end of July 2021 and third album Skinty Fia went straight in at Number 1. All three were produced by Dan Carey but that is where the similarities end. Three starkly different albums. Brit and Grammy nominations. But perhaps most impactful of all during this time has been their live shows. The delayed UK tour finally happened in the autumn of 2021 followed by US and European dates earlier in 2022. Add to this numerous festival appearances including Glastonbury, Roskilde, Hurricane, Best Kept Secret and Primavera. Fontaines D.C.’s music is extraordinary live and they have swept up new fans with every appearance. When in July 2020 the gig was postponed to July 2021, a second date was added. Another year on in July 2022 they could easily have cashed in their chips and played a bigger venue in Dublin such was the demand. Instead they honoured the original commitment to play Iveagh Gardens - capacity of just 5,000. Kudos to Fontaines D.C. For those of us in the Facebook Fan Page group of “What’s Really Going On” there was the added joy of meeting up before the gigs. Devitt’s pub beside Iveagh Gardens was the starting point for the day. Fans gathered from as far afield as US, Brazil, France and Holland. Friendships were re-established, new ones forged and stories were exchanged about the love for this wonderful band, the reason we were all in Dublin. My first impressions of Iveagh Gardens? It’s so much smaller than imagined! The atmosphere was relaxed and informal. Security were enjoying the day too and it all made for a perfect build up to a couple of special nights. There were two support bands: Dubliner Aoife Nessa Frances who is also signed to Partisan Records, and Wunderhorse, the stage name of Jacob Slater, who was the frontman for London band The Dead Pretties. Meanwhile Fontaines D.C. were very chilled, a couple of the members of the band even seen posing for pictures with fans beside the stage before the gig.
On the first night the heavens opened while Wunderhorse were playing. How apt. “Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind” sings the charismatic lead singer Grian Chatten in Big from debut LP Dogrel, but as the rain eased ("the clouds cleared up, the sun hit the sky") it was finally time and after a 2 year wait the 5-piece were onstage. It was difficult not to be emotional.
They opened with In ár gCroíthe go deo a song inspired by the story of the late Margaret Keane, who emigrated to Coventry from Ireland when she was young. When she died in her 70s, her family tried to commemorate her heritage by having the words In ár gCroíthe go deo engraved on her gravestone. The court of the Diocese of Coventry refused the family permission, judging that the Gaelic phrase risked being seen as a political slogan. (It means 'in our hearts forever' - the egregious ruling has since been overturned as an infringement of human rights). The opening song on Skinty Fia, it's a powerful start to the gig with its choral like vocals. The two nights had slightly different setlists with the second night including Couple Across the Way, You Said and crowd favourite Liberty Belle in place of the previous nights Roy’s Tune, Chequeless Reckless and Big. Both nights had an incredible 20 song set and it passed in a flash. Lead singer Grian was relaxed throughout and his pacing of the stage simply looked like he wanted to take it all in. Both nights were a thrilling mix of all three albums; in fact the first three songs were one from each: In ár gCroíthe go deo, A Lucid Dream and Sha Sha Sha. The Skinty Fia album in particular has seen a shift in the demographic of the fanbase with the younger generation falling in love with this music. Perhaps Dogrel spoke more to the original punk generation with its impassioned, spirited and raw ode to Dublin. And oh those massive blow-up balloon eyeballs launched into the crowd by the crew for Too Real, a nod to the video when the band spookily has ping pong balls taped to their eyes. Whoever had the idea to replicate this deserves a huge pat on the back. The energy generated by these is electrifying, creating absolute mayhem in the crowd. The unpredictability of their movement is such fun, and what a laugh to see the crowd as well as the band and security trying to deal with these huge balloons. I spotted one stuck in a tree, and one fan even managed to catch one and let it down to take home – what a souvenir of the night. Older tracks such as Televised Mind, Hurricane Laughter and A Hero’s Death sit beautifully alongside new songs such as Roman Holiday, Skinty Fia and Nabokov. During the second night Fontaines D.C. did something I have not seen before. Grian stopped singing during part of Boys In The Better Land and let the crowd continue, one of many goosebumps moments. And for a band that don’t do encores, the rules were broken for these gigs, of course they were. Dublin City Sky, Boys in the Better Land, Jackie Down the Line and I Love You closed out both nights. A staggering 4 tracks to delight of the crowd. The latter is an impassioned love song to Ireland with all its complexities, contradictions and corruption. I have to say it was an utter privilege to hear this song played in Dublin So to Grian, Tom Coll (drums), Conor Curley (guitar), Carlos O’Connell (guitar) and Conor Deegan III (bass) I want to say thank you. For giving us these memories in Iveagh Gardens. Live music as a shared experience does not get much better than these two gigs. We were sent out into the Dublin night knowing we had attended something very very special. Was it worth the 2-year wait? Do you even have to ask…?
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