Saturday, February 26, 2011

Live Review: Spies, Squarehead, Croupier @ The Workman's, Dublin

Having sold out the same venue last October local newcomers Spies returned to the Workman's Club on Thursday night, with a stellar supporting cast of Croupier and Squarehead in tow. 

The 'recently Choice nominated' Cast of Cheers may currently hold the crown for producing tight tunes with a catchy underbelly but Wicklow-based Croupier arrive on stage and immediately lay down a challenge for the throne. With a decent gathering already filing into the Quays-side venue, the five-piece catapult into an intense set, shifting from swoons to screams with impressive ease. The more melodic sections are interspersed with ferocious bursts which see front-man Oisín Murphy erupt into a mouth-foaming frenzy and while, on record such intensity may be a touch overbearing, on stage it arrives as an impressive creation. The well-crafted musicianship on show throughout holds much in common with the polished yet anthemic work of Richter Collective instrumentalists 'Enemies'. With its funky clap-along interlude 'It's Not The T.V. It's The Remote' is a particular highlight and though perhaps lacking the same level of catchiness as many of their peers, Croupier are none-the-less a superbly tight unit, backed by an admirable level of passion throughout. 

Squarehead are up next and such was the extent of their ascendancy in 2010 that it's likely the three-piece could now sell out the venue in their own right. The dreamy, almost languid Americana vibes of the Rathmines ensemble have infected the ears of many in recent months, with tunes that hark back to lazy ways and summer days. Thankfully the same good vibes are on full show tonight in a set packed with beach melodies - so much so that it encourages some members of the audience to start dancing in surf-like motions - always a good sign. New single 'Midnight Enchilada' is even more impressive live - a trashy early 90's anthem which sticks firmly to the Squarehead motif of holding a killer chorus and of being instantly catchy. Closer 'Fake Blood' is the kind of song that all bands hope to have in their arsenal. It's the type of track which instantly shifts reviews up a grade, pushing people's views of the gig from "very good" to "excellent!" in a couple of short, sweet minutes. Rightly donned single of the year by Nialler9's readers, it's an infectious little slice of brilliance and the pinnacle of a set which whets the appetite for their debut album release later this year.

And so onto Spies. Last years debut EP was a magnificently intense and brooding affair, characterised by a polish and maturity which contradicted their tender years, but I was unsure of whether such accomplishment could be fully transferred to the live-setting. Opener 'Into The Woods' immediately dispels any such worry, as its surprisingly dancey-beat propels the now jam-packed environs of the Workman's with a slick and thunderous display. From the off there's a keen sense of anticipation and excitement among the young crowd and the opening reception seems to take front-man Michael Broderick by surprise. At the start he paces the stage in a manner comparable to Matt Berninger of The National - clutching his hands and readjusting the mic as he surveys the waiting crowd. But from there a Black Swan metamorphosis follows, as he feeds off their enthusiasm to deliver a powerful performance brimming with confidence and purpose. 

Each of the EP tracks are already essential elements of the live-show - 'Falter' with its gun-shot opening drumbeat and cathartic lyrics ("The wolves are out again / How they hunger for us all / Take the feeling, the life, my love and leave me with my broken bones") packs a hefty punch, while 'Fill The Silence' erupts with soaring tones of dismissal and discontent. 'Ghosts' is the equal of anything on the EP - driven and dripping with meaning, much of the crowd already seem familiar with it as they greet the first bars with appreciation. 

Despite concerns that he may forget the words Broderick produces a pitch perfect delivery on 'Weaker Body', a new track which bears the same level of intelligence as the entirety of their set - with each of the elements combining superbly to produce a thundering, euphoric wall of sound.

Word that Morrissey is in attendance is certainly apt as there's much to compare with the lyrical output of Spies as with the great word-smith himself. Teeming with romantic introspection - each track is as clever as it is dark, exploring the compexities of life with the intelligence of a band twice their age. 'Liars Call Me King' is a crowd favourite and rightly so as it is as essential a song as I've heard in recent years, the distinctive opening bass riff slowly giving way to an intense chapter of melancholic disdain. Quite how Spies know how to mould every vocal, riff and drumbeat into a few short soluble minutes, while at the same time, embellishing them with meaning and maturity - all at such a young age, is staggering. On a night when many similar-aged attendees got turned away for not having ID, the youth of this five-piece only serves to further highlight their accomplishment and potential. As essential live as they are on record, Spies are now one of the most exciting young bands to emerge in recent years - here's hoping for a full album release soon.

STL Verdict: 9/10

// Spies' eponymous debut EP is available as a free download from Bandcamp.

// Croupier's debut release - 'We, The System' is available as a free download from Bandcamp.

// Squarehead will release their debut album on Richter Collective later this year. New single 'Midnight Enchilada' will be released as a single on Friday 18th March in Ireland (20th Digital & 21st in UK). {Courtesy of Nialler9}



 Squarehead - Midnight Enchilada by Nialler9


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