Fontaines DC review – ire, tenderness and very good moshpit | Fontaines DC

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Clad in a Scarface T-shirt, slick with sweat, Fontaines DC singer Grian Chatten slams his microphone stand down on the stage repeatedly, as though punishing the floor beneath him. The stage, however, is blameless. Formed in 2017 and named after a character from a mafia movie and their home city of Dublin, Fontaines DC have established their reputation as would-be guitar-music saviours, all the while questioning that burgeoning fame and the prevailing thumbnail sketch of their band as Irish post-punks with a poetic bent. The stage is probably their most natural habitat, where all the bristling ambivalence of their work translates into certainties: intense songs, delivered with commitment. As often as Joy Division have cropped up as a reference to Fontaines DC’s strain of low-slung ill ease, they’ve been matched by Chatten’s studies of frontmen such as Liam Gallagher and Ian Brown.

At once cherubic and lairy, Chatten spends much of this small club show on the lip of the stage, balancing on monitors or perched on the metal barrier, stirring up the crowd, extending his wriggling fingers towards them, Sistine Chapel ceiling-style. The audience pays Fontaines DC back in outstretched limbs, umpteen crowd-surfers and word-for-word singalongs.

This gig takes place a few days before the release of the band’s third album, Skinty Fia, providing an opportunity for fans to hear some new songs and get within two metres of an outfit whose snug club days are already over. FDC’s last London gig but one was at the 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace; here, it’s 1,200. The band are not just an Anglo-Irish success story though. Their second album, A Hero’s Death (2020), was nominated for a Grammy in the US. An old song Fontaines DC play tonight at the climax of their set – Boys in the Better Land – chafes at the Irish habit of lionising new lives in new worlds.

But now the band seem to be in with a chance of being those very boys, with recent slots on US TV shows segueing into a month-long North American live campaign. Skinty Fia completes a classic-sounding trio of albums; it tackles a number of thorny themes, not least the vexed job of being an Irish person abroad – the band all live in London now – and whether those deep roots nourish or bind.

With their reputation as a live act already well established – bassist Conor Deegan attempting to dig his own hole in the stage with the head of his upside-down bass during Too Real is one of tonight’s more memorable vignettes – what’s telling is the crowd’s embrace of the new songs as old friends. No one folds their arms; there is no exodus to the bar.

Up close with Grian Chatten at EartH, London.
Up close with Grian Chatten at EartH, London. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Jackie Down the Line, debuted in January, is a portrait of toxic masculinity that doubles as a tuneful banger. Perhaps in a nod to the song’s video, Chatten brandishes a bunch of red roses as he sings about someone who got away with murder. This murder ballad of sorts has more than a faint edge of any number of Pogues songs about abuse and disappointment. But Fontaines DC’s lyrics repay close listening. At some point near the end, “Jackie down the line” changes to “I’m one Jackeen of a line” – “jackeen” being a derogatory word for a Dubliner.

Even better, perhaps, is I Love You, first aired during the band’s 2021 tour. Deegan’s juddering bassline heralds a strobe-lit love song in which Chatten delivers a rant aimed in part at his homeland – “the gall of Fine Gael and the fail of Fianna Fáil” – and in part at himself: “I had 30 ways of dying looking at me from the shelf,” he bawls. In all the praise for this band, not enough is made of Tom Coll’s relentless drumming, which keeps the chaos of the two guitars on a tight leash.

Every Fontaines DC album thus far has come with assertions that the band are breaking new ground in an effort not to repeat themselves. In fact every record of theirs provides a thoroughly audible through-line, and Skinty Fia concludes a winning triptych by not messing with that formula overmuch. They remain that post-punk band, constantly gnawing away at their own identity, giving very good moshpit.

Only one new track really breaks with the five-piece’s carousel of ire, tenderness and gloom: the title track, which introduces baggy dance beats and with it a taste of the Stone Roses. The rhythms work much better on record than they do in the flesh, where the detail is lost.

Skinty Fia finds Chatten, meanwhile, swinging between his twin peaks. “I let her prize apart my ribcage like a crackhead at the blinds,” he sings in his guise as a gutter poet. And yet lines such as “But we can talk about it later/ You can read it in the paper” can’t help but bring to mind Oasis, especially when Chatten delivers his lyrics as a challenge.



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