The Notas, a Dublin 6-piece, took the stage first. Reportedly* all aged 18 and in the throes of their Leaving Cert year, they displayed some nice sub-Foals guitar shapes to begin, although lacking that band’s compelling conviction and watertight arrangements. They seemed to be aiming at Big Music but fell someway short. This had the unfortunate effect of coming across as a kind of wet liberal indie, as if too tentative to be anything in particular (what happened to the fearlessness of youth?). The sometimes dramatic vocal was also stranded without the backing to justify it. Overall, I found their set uninvolving, although the early smattering of an audience was not unappreciative for this, their first gig outside of their hometown. In fairness, I’m sure there is better to come from them.
*As you’ll see in the comments section below, it seems the reports I heard were incorrect on the band members’ ages. Alice from the band clarifies – “Just to say only 2 of us are 18, and about to turn 19, the rest are 19/20, and we have all finished our Leaving Cert and are in 1st or 2nd year of college or working.” My thanks to Alice for the clarification – I think the main thrust of my point still holds, that the band is very young.
Next up was local sound twister Reid, fresh from the recent Lightbox Tour, and armed again with a laptop and controller. As with the Cork leg of that tour at The Pavilion, he showed a fine grasp of pop dynamics, with a rumbling, bass-heavy brand of broken-beat. The swelling venue, notably including the other bands on the bill, gave him a rousing ovation.
The sure sign of an expectant Cyprus Avenue crowd was duly signalled, as numbers flooded from back room to front in time for Hush War Cry, presenting their debut EP Apparitions (the Talking Heads intro music, the live version of ‘Once in a lifetime’ from Stop Making Sense, put the band into my good books straightaway). Soon an Italo synth was mixing with an artful male croon, a classic New Romantic instrument, making for one of the most unexpectedly successful musical pairings I’ve come across in some time (‘Window to the heart’).
Comparisons have been made with Wild Beasts – the combination of male falsetto, rimshot and ringing bell guitars on the moving ‘Lily’ would tend to lend weight to the comparison – but for the most part Hush War Cry seem much more interested in texture than their English counterparts. They generated a pleasing wash of guitars, studiously positioned low in the mix, yet insidiously ear-catching. The keys were the most prominent element and provided the anchor. Though not quite venturing into shoegaze, there was a distinct drift to the sound, and I must say I like a good drift.
However, I found a degree of sameness set in after about four songs. Most centred around a similar two-chord pattern with the bass keys and bass guitar swapping roles. Perhaps because of an over-reliance on texture, there were fewer hooks as the set went on – basically the tunes just needed to be stronger.
Someone I spoke to at the gig was taken with the band’s “naivety, as if they don’t know how good they are”. I doubt that personally, as theirs is a carefully constructed sound, confident and assured, and no less appealing for that. But there’s no doubt that there is a kind of wide-eyed quality about the stage presence of both singers, you might even say a purity, to match their sweet voices. The dual lead vocal may become a problem for them to overcome in time – joint frontmen having proved difficult for audiences to fathom in the past (will they be a Grizzly Bear or a Go-Betweens?).
For now though, Hush War Cry have shown they are an accomplished live band already, albeit one with work to do to fully convince as songwriters.