Stage performance defines a band — eager audiences arrive at a concert to determine if your songs are meant to be delivered live. In the case of young Irish band Fontaines D.C., the answer is a resounding yes, as seen in a sold-out show at U Street Music Hall recently, where the band dominated with pacing, presence, and something to say (which is best heard live).
On Sept. 11, the post-punk quintet visited DC from Dublin, and drew all of the songs from debut album Dogrel, released earlier this year via Partisan Records. In a methodical set, frontman Grian Chatten paced through 10 songs — sometimes literally pacing, looking like words were about to burst out of him at any moment. The handsome Irish-Brit poet looks as if he could be anywhere, doing anything, but he has something really important to say to *you* right now in this moment, and it takes some thought get all of the words right.
The words, of course, are rehearsed but they land with deliberate impact. Fontaines D.C. opened the show with “Hurricane Laughter” from Dogrel, and the swirling rhythms set the tone for a song apparently about broken connections. Grian took a moment to gather himself before he grabbed the mic, but he held on to it tightly once he had it, and he sang affectedly in clear, accented English.
Stream Dogrel by Fontaines DC on Spotify:
The results are gripping. By the time the band reached “Too Real” near the midpoint of the show, Grian directed his nervous energy into confrontation. But even then, he didn’t seem *angry* — his challenge was a call to meet him on his level. With this number and others, I also cannot help but watch drummer Tom Coll, who plays with an intensity that matches the band’s frontman. Tom’s eyes decisively pointed the way to where his drumsticks would land as he darted around his kit, feeding the fire that burned in each song.
At the end of the show, Fontaines D.C. performed “Boys in the Better Land,” a romp with reflections of wanderlust or star worship perhaps. The idea is certainly that a better life lies somewhere else, a recurring theme in the lyrics of Fontaines D.C. Guitartists Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley and bassist Conor Deegan III kept the pace tight yet playful on the otherwise pointed track.
When you see the band in action there are direct echoes from the emergence of post-punk in the late ’70s — and particularly from the streets of Manchester. Fontaines D.C. share common moorings with Joy Division although the bands diverge wildly in their bearings. And there is a similarity in the tuneful rhythms and sing-speak of the band and the work of John Cooper Clarke. At the end of the day, you are witnessing a groundbreaking sensation that feels like a new signing to Factory Records in 1979 when you see a Fontaines D.C. show.
The future looks exciting for these energetic lads, who promise another record as early as next year. May the stage ever belong to them.
Here are some pictures of Fontaines D.C. performing at U Street Music Hall on Sept. 11, 2019. All photos by Mickey McCarter.