Barry Egan reviews Fontaines DC at the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin and asks various luminaries for their favourite track from the band's new album
“Dublin in the rain is mine,” Grian Chatten famously sang on Big, the opening track on Dogrel, Fontaines DC’s debut album in 2019. “A pregnant city with a Catholic mind.”
Last night, despite the dark clouds overhead, the rain held off as the post-punk messiahs played their second sold-out night at the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin.
They flung roses into the crowd and at 9.15pm went straight into the transcendent classic that opens their new album, Skinty Fia: more eerie incantation than song, the six-minutes of In ár gCroíthe go deo was moving to hear performed.
“Gone is the day, gone is the night, gone is the day,” Chatten sang plaintively and the words resonated not just across the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin’s city centre but across the history of Ireland too.
Especially because the song came into being after Fontaines DC read about the late Margaret Keane, who emigrated to Coventry when she was young. When she died in her 70s, her family tried to commemorate her heritage by having the words "in ár gCroíthe go deo" engraved on her gravestone. The court of the Diocese of Coventry refused the family permission, judging that the Gaelic phrase risked being seen as a political slogan.
With an Irish flag proudly draped on an amp beside the band, this song was a powerful start to the night.
And then on Sha Sha Sha, Chatten was off, walking around in circles and waving his hands like Liam Gallagher or Ian Brown in their prime.
How Cold Love Is had thousands up the front jumping up and down to the beat, as did the Joy Division dirge of I Don't Belong.
Next up, The Couple Across The Way, with Chatten’s voice and an accordion and a tiny bit of background guitar (and that line about how “the world has changed beyond our doorstep”) tugged at the heart strings. It was impossible not to be moved by the stark vulnerability of the words or how Chatten sang them last night.
After that, You Said was equally as emotive, especially the words "you're been on the brink, so slow down", which spoke to the stressed-out headbanger in all of us.
The out-of-kilter fury of Televised Mind was an open invitation to everyone to get lost in the music of the Dublin five-piece. This was matched in spades by Big Shot.
There is something extraordinary about a giant singing in perfect post punk harmony "you've been through the war but you've got nothing to show". Hurricane Laughter, which came next, was insanely good, so insanely good that everyone was moving as one. Chatten made sure there was a connection available last night.
"Living is nothing," he sang on the next one Nabokov.
They released dozens of huge white eyeball balloons into the crowd for Too Real. All of which was fun.
Just as fun were the word-for-word singalongs to the likes of Skinty Fia, and of course, Liberty Belle and Boys in the Better Land.
“Life ain’t always empty,” Chatten chants on A Hero’s Death, the title inspired by the line “everybody's looking for a hero's death” in The Hostage by Brendan Behan.
Don’t sacrifice your life for your health, he added on what is surely one of the great self-help songs of all time.
Liberty Belle was a full-on frenzy of the crowd dancing to a song so catchy that the milkman would probably whistle it in the morning (if there were milkmen in the mornings any more).
They went off stage to huge applause at 10.22pm.
Barely five minutes later, they returned to encore with Dublin City Sky. In the audience Cait O’Riordan, formerly of The Pogues, must have had a wry smile at its similarity to her band. Then it was The Boys In The Better Land. Cue absolute mania in the crowd, and onstage too.
What a song
What a band.
What a crowd.
No one wanted to get a fast car to get out of here last night.
Jackie Down The Line came next.. By this stage, the crowd were whipped up into a kind of feel-good pandemonium.
"This is the last song," Chatten said, almost heartbreakingly.
The Stone Roses-y splendour of I Love You rang out across the Iveagh Gardens and deeper into the inner city, not least with its lines eviscerating the two Irish political behemoths — “the gall of Fine Gael and the fail of Fianna Fáil”.
It seemed somehow fitting with cuddly Sinn Féin riding higher in the Sindo polls than ever.
They left the stage at 10.46pm.to deafening, Velvet Underground-esque feedback
Reviewing the Fontaines DC at London’s Alexandra Palace last October, New Musical Express wrote that it was “a victory lap that hints at greatness to come”.
Last night in the Iveagh Gardens, the five kings of Dublin more than fulfilled their promise of greatness.
“Grian Chatten is the new great poetic voice of Ireland. One of the great Irish poetic voices of all time. I love him. And I know Bono f***ing loves him as well. Chatten is different and unique, and I feel that with him and the band. You know something different when it comes. It is obvious with them. It is unique. You’d have to almost go back to the f***ing Dean of St Patrick’s – Swift! – for that kind of satire and the anger about Ireland. And genuine anger, you know. The Fontaines DC have a lot to be angry about, of course. It’s all over I Love You. The mass grave of the children’s bodies found in the Catholic mother and baby home in Tuam five years ago.
"Overall, the songs in a sense are about the heritage of the Irish in London. The best art in film and music has come out of the London-Irish over the last 30 years with The Pogues and Martin McDonagh. They were probably the most talented people in their respective fields, and Fontaines DC are up there with them with this this new album. The music reminds me of The Pogues but it is more high intensity, more rap and poetic in a way than Irish traditional music. I love it. “
“Punk post punk? Who cares? The Fontaines are f***ing the business. Beautifully and unapologetically themselves, they are one of the most poignant and relevant bands this country has spawned. I Love You hits hard. Huge respect to the boys in the best band.”
“The song being about the family of Margaret Keane and the fact that the Church of England wouldn’t allow the phrase on a gravestone because they deemed Irish to be a political statement is powerful. It shows how institutions can suppress language and culture and homogenise identity. It should never be accepted. The choir sounding minor harmonies of Deego and Curley bring a sort of religious hypnotic sound to In ar gCroithe go deo as the guitars and drums build over the six minutes of the song. It’s a proper confident opening track.
"To see the Irish language, sit at the top of the album is class. The boys are absolutely smashing it and fair f***s to them. They deserve all the success.”
“I have been drawn in by the lyrics and voice of Grian Chatten from the beginning. It's both his delivery and how convincing he sounds when he speaks and sings that is one of the most compelling things about the Fontaines DC. You are drawn in by both the narratives he weaves and the honesty of the lyrics. It sounds like they are coming from someone who really doesn't give a f*** what others think but you know intrinsically that this is most likely not the case.
"I imagine he has toiled over some and many of those lines as the position of each line and word will make or break the song. His skill is that he makes it sound like these words are flowing from his tongue without much effort and it's this, almost seamless, conversation with himself and the world that makes it impossible not to be drawn in from the start. I picked this song because the words and the sentiment catch you unexpectedly.
"I love the writing in this song because there are so many layers to it. One of the things I need most from cinema and song writing is a high level and element of surprise. In this song, it feels like you have been invited on an unexpected road trip with a familiar theme but this time the theme moves into slightly unfamiliar territory. You don't know the roads, the direction or the end journey but because you are so engaged with where he is taking you that you can't help but be addicted to the journey.”
“Fontaines DC have a enigmatic, distinctive sound. A mix of unique sounding reverbed magic guitar, heavy drum interweaved with a sung Irish accent. It’s a winning combination in the world of processed music. You enter into a dark dreamlike state at times on the new album, a hypnotic rock spell with repetitive poetic phrases, a sonic world of unrushed Dublin post punk music. If it reminded me of anything it’s the brilliant 1980s band Whipping Boy as well as Joy Division, Smashing Pumpkins…and at times maybe hypnotized by its poetic rock mediation, a modern-day Samuel Beckett, if he was a singer now.
"Highlights are when he finally breaks into a story with lyrics, the simplicity and vulnerability of just acoustic accordion and his Irish accent in The couple that got away; the most accessible rock song Roman Holiday; the sublime opening on an album with soaring band backing vocals In ar gCroithe go deo; and possibly my favourite when he and the band's latent anger finally explodes on the political I Love You, a dramatic song that seems almost in two halves weaving together the spirituality of the guilt and pride of being an Irish person. I can imagine audiences joining in singing that anthemic rising chorus wherever they travel the world.”
"I Love You because it's gorgeous but also furious. They're a band with things to say about Ireland and they do it in poetry. Fontaines DC are astounding live performers."