It’s big, it’s loud and we’re proud to call it our own. Tennent’s Vital has become Northern Ireland’s end of summer party, bringing the world’s biggest acts to our doorstep. Building on previous years success the event has grown into three days of music. The Boucher Road Playing fields once again given the nod to hold proceedings.
Returning to play Vital for the second year in a row are The Minutes. The Dubliners kick off the day with some rickety rock ‘n’ rock, backing it up with sterling guitar work. History unfortunately repeats itself and it’s just not clicking with the Belfast crowd. ‘Black Keys’ is the pick of the bunch but this just wasn’t their day, despite the band’s best efforts.
“We’re going to play 21 songs. We’ll pause between each where you may clap and cheer”, jests Undertones bassist Michael Bradley. They rattle through 23 songs in all – but who’s counting? ‘My Perfect Cousin’ gets the pogoing started early and it wouldn’t be Ireland if it didn’t rain during ‘Here Comes The Summer’. Frontman Paul McLoone rolls back the years, making a nuisance of himself prancing across the stage. He removes his leather jacket and the Derry men take it up a notch. The opening riff of ‘Teenage Kicks’ might just be the moment of the summer and the crowd love every second. It gets the good vibes rolling and still sounds as fresh as newly picked daisy. Just as you think they’ve peaked too early they save their best for last, proving their punk credentials for a final time with ‘Can’t Get Over You’. A tremendous choice to play the festival and shows what the right band at the right time can do.
The Vaccines should be familiar to local audiences by now as they make their third appearance on Ulster soil this year. They start strong with tongue-in-cheek breakthrough hit ‘Post Break-Up Sex’, a tipple reminder of the indie powerhouses in their arsenal. They fly through a ramshackle of tunes, with hit and miss results. ‘Wrecking Bar’ bringing the house down, ‘All In White’ a good time to get a refreshment or two. ‘Melody Calling’ is the title track their upcoming EP and is a more smooth joust compared to their jaunty armoury. ‘Norgraad’ finishes the rout in typical brash style.
Curtains drop to reveal an extensive display of lighting and video panels, which can only mean one thing. Darkness starts to descend as on walks the neat haircuts of our anticipated headliners. ‘The Bucket’ is a hazy opener, a nod to the southern tones which so many fell in love with. ‘Closer’ then flips everything right on its head, treating us to some excellently executed stadium rock which echos throughout south Belfast – but there is something missing.
Kings of Leon were never going to be the life of the party. Wisecracks just aren’t their thing. What they lack in stage banter they aim to make up for in slick musicianship. It is a workhorse-like performance from start to finish, with very little time for anything other than the music. Which is an issue. Their diversion into earlier rocky numbers ‘Four Kicks’ and ‘Molly’s Chambers’ are packed full of energy and perks up the crowd. However on stage the Followills are static. The Nashville natives come across as uninterested and take some of the sheen off an overall rousing foray into their catalogue of anthems.
‘Supersoker’ is a new addition to the set-list but fails to bring anything interesting or new to the table. Those who haven’t been won over by post-‘Because Of The Times’ efforts won’t have their mind changed by this one. ‘Don’t Matter’ is a more grungy affair. Maybe their garage rock days aren’t completely behind them.
Trump card ‘Sex Is On Fire’ is greeted with an eruption of roaring cheers. One day they might place this near the start of their pack to get it over and done with. However on this occasion it looms until their rapturous encore. They leave us with ‘Black Thumbnail’ which gives us one last chance to have a spirited sing-a-long.
They’ve perfected this show around the world, but there are tame deviations which cannot be ignored. There is a raw grit missing from these once angst driven songs. Perhaps it’s a pre-album lull, but ‘Mechanical Bull’ is set to be a crossroads in the band’s career. Will it bring them together? Many will hope they can return to form.