O2 Academy Birmingham, 21 November 2022
It’s not every day you are granted a safe space in which to scream, completely free of judgement, alongside another 3000-or-so people. But a Fontaines DC show provides precisely that. Punchy drums and hard-hitting bass make way for vocalist Grian Chatten’s monotone voice as his incantation-like chants encourage the crowd to sing – or rather scream along.
The stage setup is simple: a giant Fontaines DC sign stands proudly in front of a wall of roses arranged in a grid pattern. And in fact, the band themselves are simple. The guitarist, bassist, and drummer are all run-of-the-mill ‘young white men in a band’ – put them in any other rock or punk band and they’d fit right in. Even Chatten, who is what makes Fontaines shine, is wearing a plain brown t-shirt and earthy-toned patchwork trousers.
Each song is met with an uproar even louder than the last
But as soon as they break out into ‘A Hero’s Death’, the title track from their 2020 album, it is clear Chatten and Fontaines are anything but generic. Although the band miss the chance to start the show with the ominous choir-led opening track from Skinty Fia, ‘In ár gCroíthe go deo’, ‘A Hero’s Death’ is still met with an uproar of cheers. No later than Chatten opens his mouth to sing the song’s first line: “Life ain’t always empty”, the crowd joins in. Frenzied fans arrange themselves into the first of the night’s many violent moshpits.
As Fontaines DC continue with their set, they play a balanced mix of all three of their albums. They progress from ‘A Hero’s Death’ to ‘Sha Sha Sha’ and ‘Television Screens’, both from their 2019 debut, Dogrel. They then progress to ‘Skinty Fia’, before returning to A Hero’s Death with ‘I Don’t Belong’. It’s a well-balanced setlist, although it is surprising they don’t play more songs from Skinty Fia.
It is difficult to not feel at least partly overwhelmed by his performance
Each song is met with an uproar even louder than the last. During ‘Checkless Reckless’, a fast-paced, politically-charged, spoken-word track, it seems like the crowd could not get any rowdier if they tried. It is only during slower songs, such as the wailing shoegaze-inspired ‘Nabokov’ that the audience gets a semblance of a breather. It is this intensity of the audience that makes seeing Fontaines DC such an overwhelming yet positive experience. You are never quite sure what’s going on at any given moment, all you are sure of is that you are experiencing Fontaines DC’s music like never before.
And the band’s performance mirrors the intensity and energy that the crowd displays. Chatten does more than sing on stage – he performs. Clutching the microphone as if his life depends on it, he slams it into the ground repeatedly, all before picking it up singlehandedly and swinging it around himself. His face contorts into expressions of hurt, anger, and sadness as he holds the microphone a mere inch from his face. He runs his hands along his body and wildly grasps at the air, all while singing each line as if in pain. He does little to break character throughout the performance. He barely speaks, and when he does, it is only to say “thank you” or to dedicate a song to his friend. It is difficult not to feel at least partly overwhelmed by his performance, and the expressions of people in the crowd prove just that.
By the time the band plays their final three songs, ‘Big’, ‘Boys in the Better Land’, and ‘I Love You’, people are hoarse, and mascara-stained tears paint the faces of many. However, it is in the latter half of ‘I Love You’ that Chatten’s emotional outpour in the previous songs comes together. The show climaxes into a flurry of drums and guitars, and red confetti with the words “I Love You” printed on them in the band’s signature yellow script flutters down from the ceiling. While the song itself is about Chatten’s relationship with Dublin and is riddled with references to Ireland, the song still clearly touches the mainly-British audience. “Is their mammy Fine Gael / and is their daddy Fianna Fáil?,” they shout, perfectly in time with Chatten. It is the perfect closer to the show. After that, all that is left is a sticky floor, a ringing in your ears, and a need to process the performance you just saw.
Seeing Fontaines DC live is an experience and an intense one at that. Young, drunk fans collide in moshpits, and the legs of crowd surfers touch every head in the crowd. Spilt beer seeps into people’s clothes and hair – all while the band’s emotionally-charged performance makes people shed the occasional tear. But the catharsis of screaming along to ‘Jackie Down the Line’ or ‘Too Real’ is unparalleled. If you do nothing else, at least go to a Fontaines DC show.