Runabay, Ethan Hanna, Adam Grant & Matt Helders
Tuesday 11th December 2018 – 39 Gordon Street, Belfast
Left a bit. Now right. Right, right, right, right rightrightrightrigTOO MUCH.
Back to the start, alright, gods sake, ease it in now. Slowly… sloooowly.
It’s not often that arriving at a gig matches the adrenaline of the event, but parallel parking in the Cathedral Quarter rivals some Olympic sports for its highoctane stakes. I abandon my vehicle (Less perfect now that I’m out of the car. Honestly, quite shameful) and make my way down the slick cobblestones of Gordon Street to tonight’s venue. There’s great music to be found on this street, whether it be from the street’s namesake bar or the Oh Yeah Centre to my right. A mural of Stevie Scullion aka Malojian glares at passers-by like the eyes of TJ Eckleburg. I hurry on through the cold shadows towards the lights of 39 Gordon Street. I am not the only one.
The hyperbolic wallpaper and violent red neon lighting confirm that I am indeed in the right place. Some of the performer’s mill around the floor, greet friends and exit through the smoking area. I grip my water (sigh) and take a seat, waiting for the show to begin. 80’s hits ooze from the speakers, my early night companion. I’m not waiting long, however.
Soulful acoustic journeyman Matt Helders opens proceedings. With a strong focus on quality over quantity, Helders’stripped back, lo-fi set sounds great on stage. Smooth, smoked vocals riff on tales of loneliness, heartbreak and the blues, with standout song ‘Not Too Good at Dancing’ being the high point. Helders had a wistful romanticism to his act, causing the couple to my left to sink a little deeper into each other’s arms. The singer-songwriter seems to have mastered the art of stage presence, allowing himself to appear much larger on stage despite his solitude, or perhaps in defiance of it. The way in which his vocals coat the room only helps.
Following Helders comes punk-folker Adam Grant with his band The Open Doors. Despite suffering from both an illness and an injury, the musician soldiered on with the show, thanking the audience for making their way out on a Tuesday night. I previously reviewed Grant’s album and noted that the sound would translate well to a live set. I’m always pleased when I’m right. Grant’s confidence in playing his own music has grown exponentially and transformed him into an engaging and entertaining frontman. A natural performer with a joyful, near-manic childish freedom that pushes his brand of folk-punk into the stratosphere, Grant is a believer in his sound and it shows. Going from searing riffs, sing-along choruses and reckless breakdowns, The Open Doors clearly enjoy their time onstage alongside Grant. It’s fitting that the set ends with ‘My Crowd’, Grants most popular song to date because it very much feels like the crowd belongs to him.
Third on the night is the Springsteenean Ethan Hanna. Still riding high from his debut album release, Hanna was eager to begin what would be his last show of the year. Joined infrequently by fellow label mate Sonja Sleator, Hanna provided a mixture of blue-collar, gravelled vocals with elements of street gospel and a tearing down the highway doggedness. Already adept at creating simplistically complex melodies and with a knack for storytelling, Hanna’s murky Americana has a believable passion and a sad anger prevalent throughout. Deceptively heavy, utterly compelling and the sole owner of a distinct and profoundly interesting sound, Hanna proved why he is one of the most intriguing artists on the local scene.
Final act of the venting and headliners, Runabay take the stage not long after to bring the night to a close. The six-piece indie-folkers more than lived up to their reputation. blending melodies found in the realm of pop with hair-raising indie highs and food stomping folk beats, they exude an intricacy that only comes from bands their size (indeed, it’s not often you see a cello). Described by Ethan Hanna as “a mix between Bon Ver and Mumford,” the calm, measured vocals have a rough, gravelled line that implies an unspoken tension, while the variation in pitches and chants helped to create a full-bodied, sophisticated sound. A solid ending to an engaging night of local music.