Having been unable or unfit to enjoy the sideshow attractions that HWCH has to offer on the first two days, I started early on Saturday by sampling the HWCH & The City free gigs and the panel discussions. I thought the “Futuregazing” panel was really entertaining and it remained surprisingly focused on the topic, with a knowledgeable bunch imparting some factual nuggets. Especially interesting was Mumblin’ Deaf Ro‘s detailed analysis of the finances of the music business and especially entertaining was 2FM’s Ian Wilson as he giggled through the discussion, interjecting with occasional proclamations of something or other being total bollocks. I retired home again for a break before attacking the final night with desperate determination.
My first stop was We Are Losers in The Workman’s Club and it seemed plenty of others had the same idea. Their brand of brash, surf-rock for kids who don’t surf good is the perfect way to start the night. Like the protagonist in Justice’s “DVNO”, frontman Gavin just came here to bounce and that he does with commendable energy. He’s assisted by a familiar band who are perfectly suited to this kind of performance. They all keep it tight while letting loose and they are the kind of people who like nothing more than giving it socks like socks are going even further out of style. Considering it’s their first proper gig, it’s massively impressive and you can be sure there’ll be plenty more triumphant moments for them ahead. Over to the deep, dark stage room of The Twisted Pepper then for The Holy Roman Army. The Coffey’s are joined by a drummer and trumpet player during their set with both adding the kind of style that oozes from their gently brilliant debut album. Unfortunately, the sound in the Pepper is a bit of a let down again. It’s not awful, but vocals are lost in the mix for too much of the set. They are not helped by unnecessarily loud, constant chatter in the crowd either but when they treat us to their wonderful cover of “Skinny Love”, it’s the heavy-handed drumming that impedes any real enjoyment of the finer details of the song. During one of their best songs, “Stagger Gently Home”, they hit pay dirt with a crude slide show of images and video clips with sarcastic comments emblazoned across them. The crowd hushes as they read the cheeky humour onscreen and for a few minutes, the gig sounds as good as it should. Excellent songwriters and musicians on show here, without a doubt, but they really need the right environment to shine. I rush into The Grand Social hoping to catch the second half of Eleventyfour‘s set. As usual, the crowd is huddled around the area at the top of the stairs as if the performer is a fire-breathing dragon. As I venture up into no-man’s land near the stage, the dragon turns out to be a grinning girl in colourful patchwork clothes, who is in the midst of complaining about people like me arriving when she’s run out of songs. She’s a talker. She whips up a bit of support from the crowd who seem to like the idea of her starting her set from the beginning again. I’m not complaining. The songs are short, snappy, witty and though the obvious reference point is Kimya Dawson, her lyrics – full of innocently delivered depravity – remind me of Phoebe from Friends making people spit out their coffee with wide-eyed glee. You could argue that she’s more of a stand-up comedienne than a singer, but she’d smile, nudge your elbow and babble on hilariously and before you know it, you’d have lost that argument and you’d be cheering for the forklift song again.
Just to mix things up, I make a very quick stop in The Mercantile to see how Kid Karate are doing. Quite fucking well, it seems. There’s a near-full room soaking up their furious energy while keeping an understandable distance so as not to get clattered by a guitar. The two-piece are serious as hell tonight. They’re out to impress and they’re not messing about. They scream, they thrash, they look like they might well explode if they try harder. Their huge racket is compared to The White Stripes/Jack White, which is totally unfair because none of White’s bands ever sounded so utterly thrilling. Word has clearly been spreading about Jennifer Evans & The Ripe Intent as a stream of people enter The Workman’s Club in time to catch them steal the show with a performance of sultry subtlety. Aside from feedback problems early on, every little note, scratch and breath from her and her band is carefully considered and intricately placed, while Evans gives a demonstration of what soulful singing is supposed to sound like. Just to demonstrate her ability to mix it up, her band are excused for a few minutes as she is joined by the pristine voice of Caoimhe Hogarty for a minimal duet with harmonies so incredible that it leaves the normally chatty and transient crowd awestruck. With songs as loveable as “Scattered” in the mix, their set is nothing short of brilliant and that’s nothing less than you should expect. Catch her while you can, folks. Arriving back in to The Mercantile, I see that the crowd is now a bit bigger and a whole lot more insane as Grand Pocket Orchestra have found whatever “it” is and they are tearing “it” up onstage. Big style. They’re so vicious and unflinching in their desire to play as fast and hard as possible while still seeming like a friendly bunch of people throwing crazy, aggressive shapes. It’s a good while since I’ve seen them live and the first since the line-up changed and expanded. They sound brilliant. It’s a perfect balance of energetic clarity and the clattering mayhem that dominates their recently released debut album. Bronwyn attacks her glockenspiel with such malicious accuracy it’s quite frightening. There is no finer band on the planet to give you an idea of the kind of music 2-year-olds dream of before radio corrupts their brains. The band are loving the chaos they’ve created and they don’t want to stop. So they don’t. Their unapproved encore is a fitting culmination to a set that could only have ended with the destruction of either the band or the stage set-up. As I’ve stuck around here later than planned, I decide not to try to catch Strait Laces and instead grab some water at the bar and await Limerick’s We Should Be Dead. Everyone always calls them “Limerick’s We Should Be Dead”. They eventually get things set up and launch into their set with the singer dashing onto the stage and throwing herself around as much as possible while delivering her power-pop vocals over the bands scratching riffs. They’re good but you can’t help feeling like you’re listening to the music they use to link scenes in MTV reality shows about spoilt bitches having lunch in the sun.
I actually go to Sweeney’s next, but seeing that they’re running late, I take the chance to go to The Grand Social and catch Sounds of System Breakdown. Again, they’ve got a pretty full house, which is much more common on Saturday evening. SOSB seem to be riding the crest of the little wave that could. Their debut album, released in January, is full to the brim with exceptionally good electro-rock songs like “Underneath The Floor Boards” and their live show just gets better and better. They seem like there is no audience you could put in front of them that they couldn’t convert. They’ve played every corner of Dublin ten times at this stage so it’s about time they made the step up. Personally, I can’t see them failing if they keep going the way they’re going. Back to Sweeney’s where things are up and running again and there’s another large crowd giving Junah a great reception. They play a few new songs that reflect the direction they’ve taken some of the older ones. There’s still beautiful harmonies and hushed, intricate guitar parts but they’ve learned to bulk up the songs without resorting to sheer volume overload. Considering the quality of their songwriting beforehand, they’re quickly moving towards a collection of original, robust and often heartbreaking songs. They perform them in style too. There’s no lack of confidence in their abilities and they are hell-bent on giving the audience something to think about after the festival. For some reason, far more bands – that I saw – on Saturday night were embracing the chance the festival gave them. They want to be there, they want you to go home with their songs in your head and an image of them giving all they’ve got ingrained in your memory. Junah, and several of the other bands tonight, do this with aplomb. Now, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, actually it’s not a tunnel, it’s a really bloody long line to get into The Workman’s Club. I’m a dirty cheat so I jump in near the front with some friends and join in the heckling of the really nice bouncer as if I’ve been there for hours. It works like a charm and within a few minutes, I’m front-left with some State heads just before The Cast of Cheers begin their set. They know they’re on almost everybody’s must-see list this weekend. They know they’re tasked with providing a rousing finish to the festival. They know they’re taking the deciding kick in the Nialler9 vs On The Record night. But nothing changes. They’re the same old Cheerios. Which means they absolutely slay everyone in that room with a set that reminds you why people use words like blistering to describe music. They throw some new songs in with the Chariot stuff and it sounds superb. People dance, mosh around a bit and plenty of us stand with our gobs hanging open at the stunning velocity and boundless creativity in everything these guys do. It’s enough to convince Nialler9 that he won the night with a wonder goal.
With the place full of mightily satisfied binge-giggers, there’s little left to do but fight for a spot at the bar and then fight for supremacy on the dancefloor.Much has been made of the good feeling around the festival and this was never more evident than in The Workman’s Club as Saturday night wore on into Sunday as bands, organisers, journo types and punters exhaled collectively in relieved satisfaction before celebrating the way people do only when there is a shared sense of achievement in the air. Magic.
Full set of Saturday photos here.