It was a bleak enough evening to begin with. With a notorious festive chill biting at the boots of your faithful editor and friends as they made their way towards the Ulster Sports Club, a larger chill hung over the heads of us all. With barely any respite as is, rumours had begun to swirl of another arts lockdown in the South, and tension amongst our native talent was high. Only one thing for it – enjoy it while it lasts.
Opening the night was bedroom-pop songwriter Smoothboi Ezra. Gaining my attention in the last two years with great tracks like ‘A Shitty Gay Song About You’ and ‘My Own Person’, it’s always a joy when the product delivers on the promise. Accompanied by their band, Ezra guides the punters down a sad little path lined with expert lyricism and woozy, magnetic hooks. Despite a production heavy sound, Ezra effortlessly glides through a succinct set list of new, old and unreleased numbers that turn a stony room warm within minutes. And despite the lo-fi appeal, there’s a bite that cant be ignored, particularly in their final track, an unreleased, as-of-yet unnamed record that has me counting down the days till the next bandcamp notification.
And almost as quietly as they began, they’re off again – slipping into the inky, sticky carpeted blackness as techs swarm the stage prepping for tonight’s headliner. Given that less than 3 hours down the road, they’re nearly at stadium level capacities, it’s somewhat shocking to see Pillow Queens at a venue of this size. Not that we’re complaining. The next show won’t be so intimate.
A sold-out crowd has gathered for the opener, which fires off like buckshot. ‘Holy Show’ and ‘Brothers’ come in rapid succession as the crowd bunches closer together. A band-of-the-moment, Pillow Queens are in their element tonight, undeniable, unmissable. Rapid-fire banter between the band keeps tuning moments rolling along, a natural chemistry turning them almost into performances in their own right as the quartet tear into a string of fan favourites from their debut LP ‘In Waiting’
Such is the strength of the performance, that any spectre of gloom at the start of the night is dispelled, as Pillow Queens play like an act that remind us why we miss live music. Magnetic, emphatic, the venue could be in the heart of their hometown with the reception they get. And as the setlist ramps up, so do the hits, ‘Rats’ comes out of band and crowd as one, breathless and in unison. Finisher ‘Liffey’ is intoxicating, a swarm of guitar and noise rock influences delivered in a pitch-perfect pop formula, an ode to modern Dublin that hits every heartstring on the way down your chest. If this is the last show of the year, so be it. They can’t take this from us.