Those lucky local lads Trucker Diablo open the first day of the Tennent’s Vital festival having secured a support slot through the Tennent’s Untapped showcase heats a few months ago. Despite rain, thunder and lightening, the pit is generously filled with the eager festival crowd and the band’s repertoire of beer-swilling, hard-partying rock and roll anthems, such as Drink Beer Destroy are exactly what the crowd need to take their minds off the weather and get sucked into the festival spirit. The irony (or coincidence depending on how you look at it) of the band’s final track, When’s It Gonna Rain is lost on the crowd as the dark clouds overhead finally lift and the band finish their very tight, energetic set just as the sun gets its festival wristband, ready to enjoy the rest of the show.
Trucker Diablo may have won the top spot with his party bus in montreal, but there were was still plenty of local acts to be seen and heard from at this year’s Vital courtesy of the Untapped stage, located conveniently beside the bar. Bringing electro-acoustic sessions from Master & Dog, A Northern Light, Mojo Gogo, PrettyChildBackfire, Havana House Party and The Jepettos. There were times when many of the bands had to compete with the louder main stage, the drunken antics of some punters and even a few technical difficulties. However, there were plenty of shining moments of glory from our music scene, such as PrettyChildBackfire’s Mark Mcallister’s vocals during I Wish I Knew You Better were strong enough to compete with the volume of noise coming from the Cribs set, while Havana House Party gathered a strong, enthusiastic crowd even while the Black Keys were on stage.
Dublin’s The Minutes are the second act on the main stage, adding a touch of class to today’s theme of garage rock and roll. Claiming to be responsible for the sunshine, having “put it in the boot from Dublin,” the Minutes have a bit of fun with the crowd between songs, even laughing at themselves after bassist Tom Cosgrove slips on a wet patch, nearly landing on his arse. A virtually flawless set, Believer is probably the most well received song in their set and having a support slot amongst international acts such as the Foo Fighters and the Black Keys has certainly garnered them with a few more, well-deserved fans.
In contrast, The Cribs at first seem a little out of place amidst the rest of the acts on the bill. Considered more indie than straight up rock and roll like the rest of the acts, it’s important to remember that this swaggering lo-fi band essentially made their name on the festival circuit with attitude and performances that would put many of today’s so-called rock acts to shame. It’s a musically chaotic set that alienates one half of the crowd, but is music to the ears of the other. Ryan Jarman has been known to cause a bit of controversy in his time, but seems rather restrained during this Cribs sets, limiting himself to kicking over a mic stand, lighting a fag on stage and taking baby steps onto the walkway reserved for Dave Grohl. Be Safe seems to turn a few heads, possibly thanks to the accompanying thought-provoking spoken word video of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, and despite being a great song, clearly divides the cultist Cribs fans from the rest of the crowd. Still, there are plenty of Cribs favourites to go round, such as Hey Scenesters and Men’s Needs, which if anything were born out of the mud, sweat and tears of the festival spirit.
American blues rock two-piece The Black Keys are all that stands between the Foo Fighters and their first Belfast gig. There isn’t much in the way of crowd interaction, but we’ll let them off the hook – The Black Keys are way too damn cool for that. Singer Dan Auberach makes no excuses except that it gives them time to play more songs, which I don’t anyone has any objections too. The sunset is the perfect backdrop to the highlight of the set, Little Black Submarines which just proves how popular the Keys are, as the audience gives a word perfect singalong accompaniment to the song.The sleazy guitar riffs in songs such as Howlin’ For You, Run Right Back and Gold on the Ceiling sound almost akin to their album counterparts, and provide plenty of foot-stomping, hand-clapping reasons for the audience to dance in the mud.
Dave Grohl ponders the crowd before him. Never having played Belfast before under the Foo Fighters banner he takes a good look at the reaction of the Vital audience to the opening part of their act. Arriving on stage almost out of the blue, they kick off with the spitting metal of White Limo, before seamlessly rolling into All My Life. It’s clear this is going to be a Foo Fighters greatest hits show as Rope and My Hero shoot the audience from one end of the Foo’s timeline to the other. Still, despite the eruption of applause, cheers and screams from the crowd, he still looks worried; perhaps Belfast isn’t up for the challenge.
So have Belfast impressed the Foo Fighters? Of course they have. That worried look on Grohl’s face is all a facade and it doesn’t take long before the corners of his mouth lift to show off his beaming, pearly white smile. Ever the prankster, Grohl loves having fun with his audience, whether it be by slowly teasing out the riffs to hits such as The Pretender and Dear Rosemary or edging carefully towards the specially built walkway giving a glimpse of hope to a few lucky fans who want to get up close and personal with their idol. He deliberately stops the band from playing Breakout at one point to playfully scold a girl using her mobile phone, demanding that he call whoever it was back and make them listen to the rest of the song. Even the inevitable encore build up between Grohl and the audience becomes a battle of wits and negotiation as he taunts them from backstage via the huge screens into convincing him to play up to four more tunes . We all know he secretly wants to play all four, but you can’t help but play along with the pageantry.
All the credit can’t go to Mr Grohl. From the Taylor Hawkins drum-cam, singing a few songs himself to Chris Shiflett playing the opening bars of Alternative Ulster clearly having done his research, there’s plenty of fun to share around. Still, even in spite of a few hoarse moments from the man himself, Grohl proves that not only is he a great showman but maintains his title as the nicest man in rock and roll. He invites Belfast into the Foo Fighters fold by allowing the crowd to meet his daughter during Walk and These Days, and sing happy birthday to the Foo Fighters tour manager towards the end of the set. Finishing with Everlong, the Foo Fighters not only delivered the greatest hits set that Belfast has craved all these years, but given Dave Grohl a perfect reason to come back. As he leaves the stage, his hand is firmly placed over his heart and the man seems genuinely thrilled by the atmosphere, perhaps wondering why the Foo Fighters left it so long to come to this corner of the world. Don’t be a stranger, Dave. You can come back anytime you like.