Dog Will Hunt with support from Vanilla Gloom and Making Monsters
Friday 27th September 2013 – Retro, Portrush
As night begins to fall over a dreary Portrush the Retro bar opens its doors. Stevie (the owner) stands outside sipping a Coke. “Ah boys,” he says, “It’s going to be a loud one tonight.” He was right.
First band to take to the stage are Belfast based grunge revivalists Vanilla Gloom. This all female trio have already had an excellent year, from their summer tour in Scotland to the release of their EP “Vexed”. With such praise circulating this band it’s fair to say my expectations were high. I needn’t have worried, Vanilla Gloom were awesome. The Queens of the Stone Age guitar riffs combined with the melodically moody aesthetics of The Breeders, make Vanilla Gloom an act that stands apart in the swell of local music. They are a band who have obviously done their home work and radiate an informed blend of influences. This displays maturity not often found in bands of this age. Guitarist and vocalist Shannon O’Neil sways back and forth, strumming brittle clashing chords that drip with the Pixies Frank Black. She jumps forward on her pedal igniting heavy 90s dirt. The song is ‘Vultures’ and the crowd are nodding along to the tight and on pitch vocal harmonies of all three members of the band. The song ends with a simplistic but stylish solo from O’Neill which generates enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Bassist Megan O’kane chugs along through the set with often quirky and inventive runs. In ‘Wolves’ she takes over to sing lead. Although the vocals weren’t necessarily that technically brilliant, they did create a nice dark tone, both relaxed and sombre. It’s refreshing to hear vocals that are natural and have personality. The lyrical content is cool too. An example being the slightly unpleasant yet captivating line, “Theres a hole in my head, a putrid void of the things I left unsaid”. Drummer Grace Leacock holds everything together with her tight heavy drumming. Leacock also reverts from this heaviness to subtler rock/pop grooves, especially at the beginning of ‘Vultures’ where the toms are utilised to cool effect. This gives the act personality and quirkiness, which many local bands don’t have. The highlight of the set was “Lemons and Wine”, a three minute pop rock extravaganza. This song defiantly has the most enjoyable and immediate melody. It shows that this band can make a concise enjoyable pop song which is an extremely hard feat. Vanilla Gloom were tight, calm and cool. On stage they appeared relaxed and interacted with ease with the crowd. It’s no surprise then that they were met with universal hearty applause.
Next up were female fronted MakingMonsters, a five piece alternative metal band from Derry. Heads turn as amplification snaps into life. MakingMonsters humorously claim that their sole interest is riffs. This was certainly evident. Heavily distorted guitars roll out over the crowd flattening us with brain twitching fuzz. From the get go it appears that these guys mean business. Guitarists Paul and Steve provide a wall of snarling sounds interposed with nice touches of harmonic chords and impressive solo work. Moustachioed bass player Joe bangs his head in the corner whilst filling in the gaps with the satisfying thudding of his four string. Drummer Brian, who possibly has more ink than the Oxford English Dictionary, keeps this all together with brilliantly heavy skin work and double kick fills that almost made me drop my Guinness.
What makes this band stand out, musically proficient as they are, is the excellent vocal work of front woman Emma. She growls, snarls and shouts down the mic, one foot on the monitor, hair wind milling like crazy. Ferocious anger and energy comes off in waves. The vocal prowess doesn’t end there. The songs are laced with bittersweet melodies that were both poignant and pitch perfect. She displayed a vocal range well above many other Northern Irish bands. The audience appeared to notice this too, from their universal looks of enjoyment to the riotous moshing of the cider swilling revellers at the front. MakingMonsters blasted through roughly a half hour set, holding crowd attention between songs with relaxed and self assured stage presence. The highlight of the performance was “What It’s Worth”, which best displayed the band as effective and talented songwriters. This song is available to stream on their Bandcamp. Others such as “Sink or Swim” and “Limits” were highly enjoyable head bangers which helped to show off the bands impressive musicianship. Riffs, roars and a moustache, what’s not to like?
The final act of the night is Dog Will Hunt, a three piece from the North Coast self categorized as heavy dance funk. As a local boy myself, I am always pleased and proud when I see bands from the area play, especially when they blow the room away. Dog Will Hunt is a band who never disappoint, in the studio or indeed playing live. Tonight was no exception. Guitarist Liam McCloskey dances his fingers over the fret board with ease, each strike ringing out a mathy rock vibe. This is all between melodic chord work, which captivates the crowd with its emotive power. In “Destroy The Walls”, he barks at the mic, not singing, but it’s not without tune. There is a vocal sparseness that compliments the instrumental work, it gives the sound space and doesn’t overcrowd things. Along with the meandering guitar lines, bassist Stephen Donaghey provides a steady and equally skilled layer to the sound. He paws out rolling rhythms that expertly change from smooth licks to harsh Morse code stabs. His playing has style and personality, which was best displayed in “Build A Fortress”, a song that had me grabbing my gut in order to see if the contents were still in the same place as before. This is a good thing, trust me! Leon Connolly completes the sound with drumming best described as sounding like a cavalry of helicopters going into battle. He slams his feet onto the pedals and his sticks bite relentlessly at the snare. The crowd at the front head bang furiously, two people link arms and swing around while a sweaty fan screams with delight. Things get more hectic as And So I Watch You From Afar guitarist Rory Friers steps on stage to take over vocals. The crowd cheer and fist pump vigorously as the new remodelled foursome launch into “Rats In The Grass”. Friers screams, veins bulging in his neck, face growing red. He invests full passion. The band rock hard along with him feeding off his energy, the song is tight, angry and heavy.
Afterwards he descends back into the crowd to pats on the back and wolf whistles. Dog Will Hunt played a forty minute whirlwind set, showcasing songs off their new “Colours EP” (Available on Bandcamp). The highlight of their performance was closing number “Ain’t Nothin To It But To Do It.” This anthem of a track best encapsulates everything good about the band and left me with a huge grin on my face. The crowd seemed to agree, hugging each other and clinking mostly spilled pints of Tennents together. Dog Will Hunt were funny, engaging and musically brilliant, I hope to see them play again soon. As The Retro begins to close up. Stevie turns to me, “Did you have a good night?” Or at least that’s what I think he said…