Four months into 2022, and it’s good to get back into the rhythm of hitting local gigs. International touring acts are one thing, but there is something to be said for wandering into a venue with little to no expectations or pre-conceptions about what the bill for the evening will entail.
From Bangor, Ethan Hollan has been on the go in some shape or form since 2019 and has been featured by the Oh Yeah Centre as well as Feile an Phobail. Backed by a drummer, the music he makes is easy going, jazzy indie pop. Laid back, with a groove and even with little elements of shoegaze in there as well. Playing an electric guitar instead of the traditional acoustic allows for a fuller sound and even some tapping (Stanley Jordan style) in places. Vocally, Hollan is reminiscent of Damien Rice in places and his quietly self-deprecating persona is endearing.
Interestingly, in the moments when he leaves the guitar aside to fully concentrate on the vocals, there are hints of a frustrated frontman evident due to his gestures and stage presence. Maybe, in the future, with a full band behind him, it might draw out some more theatricality in his performance or even take him in a different musical direction. But, as it stands, the lad will go far as the music is accessible, but with hints of weirdness to ensure repeat listening.
Not content with Paper Tigers, Michael Smyth is also indulging his inner Andy Bell (Ride) by giving us Virgins. Unveiled last year, line-up changes mean a different incarnation take to the stage tonight, As expected, the sound is overwhelming and ethereal, with a sharp bass sound cutting through in order to provide the casually apocalyptic crunch needed to balance out the dreampop. At times the PA (and the stage) struggle to contain the sound and the band itself, but this dichotomy makes for an intriguing performance, going against the stereotype of shoegazers just staring at their foot pedals. Described by the band as “…a melancholy whisper intoned from a dream half forgotten…”, new vocalist Rebecca has a yearning, lullaby style voice that easily floats in and out of the music, adding to the ethereal vibe. This is in sharp contrast to Smyth, whose rockist posturing gives the performance muscle. While some old school fans of shoegaze might be put off by this, a full album will prove that the band’s place in the nu-gaze revival is richly deserved.
With a UK tour under their belt, and prestigious support slots with the likes of Wonk Unit and General Fiasco, Derry’s Parker are on incendiary form at the moment. Playing tight, angular and sharp melodic punk that has the potential to cross over into indie rock terrain, the band don’t let up for a second and even have drum fills in the moments when instruments need tuned, demonstrating their tightness as a three-piece live act. Each song is a joyous, life affirming burst of energy, with vocals that have the gruffness of Frankie Stubbs (Leatherface) and the anger of Nick Oliveri. Simply put, Parker rule. An album can’t come soon enough.
And this is why I missed local gigs. More please.