Photos: Bríd O’Donovan
Although the students of Cork have wrapped up for the year, there must be something in the air that has them out in droves tonight. A tough year spent warbling over lecture notes? The fear of what lies in store with the Treaty? A night where you can forget your worries for two hours and let the soundscapes of fellow countrymen suspend you in a vortex of absolute bliss. Whatever the reason, they sure do a fine job of setting the scene for what I can only describe as an experience.
Supporting The Altered Hours tonight are Dubin-based purveyors of momentum Northern Drones. You’ll have to excuse my lack of seeking but I’m unfamiliar with the name and tonight really is my first introducion to the band. Three albums in two years isn’t an easy feat for any band not to mind an independent Irish band in this ecomomy. Arguments aside, I was hooked after the first 60 seconds. Kicking out with the loudest waltz I’ve ever heard, the noise-filled drone insantly suffocates any conversation about “band name generator” apps that happens to be going on. The vocals are completely and utterly buried and although the crowd are aware, the band too, it couldn’t work any better.
The Drones’ frontman delivers a raw punk drawl that at times sounds like Mark E Smith, but then again maybe that’s what we think we’re hearing. ‘Mornin Lite’ from the band’s self titled 2010 album follows, combing a gorgeous Route 66 twang with some serious guitar hammering to follow. There are element of kraut in place with its successor, the Jaki Liebezeit style groove changing the pace of the swaying bodies. Finishing with another track from the same album, ‘Nothern Drone’ must be their signature song. Combining elements of Ride and early Dandy Warhols, it has the band grooving back and forth with the audience in a worryless world. By the time I’m rubbing the inside of my ear wondering how many more db’s I’ve lost, the band have thrown the guitars on the floor and knocked over the mic stand, and that’s it. Four songs, delivered with more affection than a packet of Love Hearts. Raw, real and ready!!
Following that wasn’t going to be an easy task for any band but let’s not rule anything out just yet. Everybody here tonight is here for a reason, that reason their Corkonian cohabitants The Altered Hours. Kicking off with the absolutely fantastic ‘Garden of Sonic Children’, it’s a pleasure to see New York-born guitarist Kevin Terry Junior destroy the neck of his guitar with a slide. Drummer Nora Lewon has the mallet sticks out and the floors toms take an almighty hammering too. The groove is so precise that even the overtones have created a rhythm of their own that seems to bounce back off the slide notes.
From here we are treated to the dual vocal of frontan Cathal Mac Gabhann and synth/percussionist Elaine Howley on the nugget-astic ‘Flowers Die’. Mac Gabhann proclaims “You’re a sunflower baby and you’re going to die“, honing the menace of the Brian Jonestown Massacre with the charisma of the Mamas and Papas. Radio favourite ‘Daydream Parade’ shows the softer sound and proves how dynamic the band can get onstage and off. The sound tonight is stunning and makes you really understand just how great a band they are. The set delivers surprise afer suprise.
From here they take it to a whole new level with the haunting fuzz sludge of ‘Cement’, another personal favourite. This time Elaine takes the lead vocal, delivering a beautiful melody that fills the room with its range. Some tracks could be lost B-Movie gems, others possess the wild punk barks of frontman Mac Gabhann. Like all great psych bands, there is no shortage of Organ sounds either, at times sounding like they’re being played through some 70′s echo chamber belonging to Deep Purple. ‘Wicked Son’ is another stunner that proves not only can they play impressively tightly, they can harmonise just as well. The four part harmony has the crowd transfixed. As the drums come in, the whole building is swaying with the band in a Paul McKenna-approved groove.
They finish up with the noisy, lo-fi punk gem ‘Fuck the Police’ before signing off with a simple “Thanks a Million”. The applause is rapturous and deservedly so. One guy standing in front of me is still swaying back and forth. Although the music has stopped for a couple of minutes now he’s still lost in the trance. As he realises what he’s doing he growls “one more tune, one more tune” which ascends into a mass of the same chant. The band stroll back on and tear through a quick three chord, buzzed up cocktail. Part Kim Deal, part Kevin Shields, it’s the perfect end. It has the sound of summer and the hope for a good future.
Tonight The Altered Hours proved they are ready. For me, they are hands down the best Irish band I’ve seen in quite a number of years. Trust me when I say I’ve seen plenty. Although my fingers and toes are crossed for both the Europrean Championships and the Euromillions I can safely say I’m adding The Altered Hours to that list. I hope they get everything they deserve and WHEN they do maybe then we can all celebreate the Daydream Parade.