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Fontaines DC @ O2 Victoria Warehouse review – a band of distinction

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Featured image and gallery: Georgina Hurdsfield


As a million publications begin to collate album of the year lists, it is high time to see one of the sure contenders, Fontaines DC, at the last performance of their three-night quasi-residency at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse.

Their album Skinty Fia, released back in April, propelled them from an exciting underground group (albeit one with a Grammy nomination) to fully-fledged indie royalty. Charting at number one in the UK and their home country, Ireland, while winning massive critical plaudits across the music press.

Their merchandise, which pays homage to another fine Irish export (clue: it’s wet and starts with a G), describes them as “a band of distinction”. NME have even awarded them their “Best Band in The World” title. If past experience of their live shows and innumerable listens to their three records is anything to go off, then the title certainly isn’t overly hyperbolic. 

First though is support act Wunderhorse, the solo vehicle of former Dead Pretties frontman Jacob Slater. Debut album Cub released just last month, is perfectly timed to soak up some of that Fontaines tour hype.

The growing crowd are more than accommodating and, as credit for turning up early, get themselves 35 minutes or so of decent, inoffensive indie rock. It’s a little sixth-form band at times, and you’re looking to a list of usual suspects – Radiohead, Nirvana, Springsteen – when it comes to influences, but Wunderhorse do their job in warming things up.

Credit to Slater and the band for lifting the riff from Sweet Home Alabama on their own Leader of the Pack and doing something interesting with it. Credit, too, that he’s got an impressive set of pipes on him and is probably the more likely to get a perfect SingStar score of the two frontmen getting on stage tonight. 

Wunderhorse

Anybody underestimating just how far Fontaines DC have come from playing pub backrooms barely five years ago need only look at how rammed this venue is tonight, for the third night running, no less. Indie kids, football lads, 6Music dads, hipsters, Madchester cling-ons, emos and, worst of all, music journalists – all here paying through gritted teeth for £7 beers.

After a blast of Petula Clark’s Downtown over the PA, on come the band to a raucous reception. There’s no time for tuning up, tentative line checking or even a hello. We’re straight into opener ‘Big’, from 2019’s Dogrel. The set list tonight doesn’t bow to chronology but is a jigsaw of back catalogue depth. It demonstrates the group’s versatility, and the fact that earlier songs hold up amongst the Skinty Fia cuts is indicative that their songwriting prowess has been present from the start. 

Whilst there’s next to no interaction with the crowd between songs, frontman Grian Chatten’s towering stage presence exudes charisma. He stalks the stage like smelling blood, both energetic and imposing, an amalgamation of the great frontmen before him – Ian Curtis, Liam Gallagher, Mark E Smith (it seems the Dubliner is tapping a Mancunian vein).

The rest of the band do that cool indifference thing – seeming largely unaffected by the screaming legions before them. The bassist, Connor Deegan III, looks like he actively hates music. Crack a smile brother, you’re playing the easiest instrument there is in the biggest indie band of the 2020s. 

Save for a false start on ‘You Said’, they play with a virtuosic discipline. Guitar, bass, drums slot into harmony and rhythm perfectly, with machine-like precision. Textural variety abounds. Motorik beats on Skinty Fia’s title track, soaring shoegaze guitars on ‘Televised Mind’, and subdued alt-rock on ‘Jackie Down The Line’. 

The latter song gets probably the best reception. Part of a 2-punch knockout alongside ‘Roman Holiday’, bringing the night’s biggest singalongs, before the frenetic post-punk of early single ‘Too Real’ closes the main set.

A quick wee wee and a cigarette break, and they’re back out for an encore, the skiffle drum beat of ‘A Hero’s Death’ kicking into gear. “Life ain’t always empty” and sarcastic betterment-speak affirmations, before a breakneck rendition of scrappy punk number ‘Boys In The Better Land’ (it’s always funny to hear a thousand English voices belt “Brits out”). 

It’s obvious that for Fontaines DC the lyrics are the priority rather than perfect pitch. Neither Chatten nor the rest of the band sing like angels, but that’s of little importance to a band that are as much an outfit for poetry as they are tunes.

The lung capacity required for ‘I Love You’, the final song of the night, shows that there are proper singing chops there anyway. The staggeringly emotive ode to Ireland hits just as hard over the sea, soggies eyeballs, and caps things off fantastically.

Best band in the world? They may be.

About the author / 

Miles Cooke

Miles Cooke is a MA Multimedia Journalism student at MMU and a music journalist.

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