Fontaines DC review – sparks fly for once-in-a-generation post-punk poets

University of Liverpool
The Dubliners burst brilliantly back on stage with literary-hearted rock that’s up there with the Smiths or the Pogues

The pandemic meant Fontaines DC never got to tour 2020’s bleak masterpiece A Hero’s Death, which – following 2019’s similarly acclaimed, Top 10, Mercury-nominated Dogrel – established the Dublin poetic post-punks as the kind of guitar band that comes along once in a generation.

However, finally, here they are, lashing out tracks from both albums before an audibly adoring public to the point that crowd hysteria transforms Liberty Belle from a dark song about “ready steady violence” into a joyous, liberated, gleeful celebration.

Carlos O’ Connell performs with Fontaines DC in Liverpool
Carlos O’ Connell performs with Fontaines DC in Liverpool Photograph: Desh Kapur

Otherwise, the enforced lay-off hasn’t hindered Fontaines’ intensity. Songs are delivered without stage patter. The guitarists glower down at their instruments like men drilling the road, electric riffs hurtling off around them like sparks and shrapnel.

The musicians’ knowing immobility helpfully focuses the attention on livewire vocalist Grian Chatten, who – after initially struggling with fame earlier in his career – stands fetchingly tilted towards the microphone, paces the stage as if looking for an exit or turns to whip up the crowd. There’s a new theatricality to the staging, including columns of flashing gold light or, bizarrely, white balloons, each bearing a black dot, like giant eyeballs, bouncing over the crowd.

They don’t need such trappings because they have songs that you can listen to with eyes closed. Former poet Chatten’s heroes include Shane MacGowan, Yeats and Joyce and this is rock music, with a literary heart, of a quality comparable to that of the Smiths or the Pogues. Lyrics such as “antiquated strangers”, “bear-trap loyalty” or “I was a cool cool kid on the curbstone scene / And the lights in my eyes they were evergreen” bring rich language to themes of working-class anger, austerity, gentrification, refusal of authority and the elusive prospect of escape (“Sink as far down as you can be pulled up, life ain’t always empty”).

Having had plenty of time to learn the words, the formerly locked-down audience bellow along with Boys in the Better Land, I Was Not Born and the others, because Fontaines are, in every sense, a band worth waiting for.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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