It was like nothing had happened. Eighteen months of lockdowns and enjoyment-sapping restrictions were blown away in a second by a post-punk poet and a rock ‘n’ roll band.
Manchester must be Fontaines D.C.’s favourite gig. They booked into Manchester Academy for three, passion-filled nights on this latest national jaunt, while other cities had to make do with one-night stands. I don’t know who was more pleased to be at a proper gig at last: the audience, who spanned generations from teens and granddads, or the band.
With the sweat dripping and the steam rising, the Fontaines strolled on just after nine o’clock and produced a frantic, full throttle, whirlwind assault on the senses that didn’t let up for just over an hour. What a bloody band they are. Intense, powerful, hook-laden and tight.
Central to it all is the charismatic, literary-soaked Dublin drawl of frontman, Grian Chatten. By now, he must be tired of being compared to Shane McGowan, James Joyce, Ian Curtis and Morrissey. You can see elements of all of them, but he’s his own man. He says little on stage but, given his lyrics, he doesn’t really need to.
Here’s a few lines he belted out in Manchester:
‘Bring your own two cents
Never borrow them from someone else
Buy yourself a flower every hundredth hour
Throw your hair down from your lonely tower
And if, and if
You find yourself in the family way
Give the kid more than what you got in your day
Life ain’t always empty’
Chatten came on wearing Adidas tracksuit bottoms and began manically pacing the stage, looking like he was about to chin somebody. He gestured to the crowd, repeatedly swooshing both arms skyward, in a bid to fire them up for what was about to come. But he didn’t need to. The crowd was already there. From the opening song, A Lucid Dream, not only did the audience sing every word back to Chatten, they sang every guitar line as well.
The Irish five-piece were clearly on a mission to give some air to their 2020 Ivor Novello-nominated second album A Hero’s Death, which they never got a chance to tour because of you know what. Televised Mind, I Was Not Born and Living In America were all unleashed and loved.
But it was songs from their Mercury Prize-lauded debut album, Dogrel, that really made you forget the world and everything else for a while. The Fontaines had the zeitgeist in their pocket. Everyone was out to make up for lost time. Both the band and the crowd were in the same moment, at the same time. That doesn’t happen often.
They rattled from one anthem to the next. Hurricane Laughter was great, Big was even better. But the highlight was probably Too Real, which was accompanied by dozens of huge balloons that looked like eyeballs and were launched from the stage as Chatten repeatedly snarled “Is it too real for ya?”.
They finished with the brilliant Boys in the Better Land and A Hero’s Death, and that was it. All over. The lights came on, doors were thrown open and the street began to fill with excited talk about what had just happened. It was just a joy to be there.
As former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce tweeted after the gig, ‘Fontaines DC. What a band. The best thing to come out of Ireland since my mam and dad.’ High praise indeed.