It’s easy to forget that you’re at a gig when perched opposite your laptop. Your feet aren’t entrenched in whatever the hell is on the sticky floor, you’re not feeling wounded after being barked at needlessly by security, and you’re able to swiftly grab a not-£7.50 can of Guinness safe in the knowledge that returning to your viewing spot won’t involve parting the red sea. Since this is meant to be Brixton, it helps to add a bit of theming.
Perhaps stand in the rain for a few hours beforehand, or create your own playlist of unchallenging rock hits turned to a unique volume where it is too loud to think yet somehow too distant to recognise what is playing. Oh, but look, here’s one enduring reliability: unreliability. Half 8, as promised, and the band are nowhere to be seen. The live-stream lobby entertains those waiting with a peaceful rotation of fortune cookie wisdom. ‘Enjoy while you wait’, ‘You’re in the right place’…
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There’s only one thing to do at this moment of sweaty impatience: scroll compulsively through Twitter. How many people are actually going to watch this? A smattering of selfies in front of computer screens, they seem to be overjoyed. Seeing these people willing themselves to have a good time in their living rooms and home offices is a pathetic reminder of how this nightmare can’t possibly last much longer. Ah, wait a minute, one bloke has the right idea: he’s got the Saints game on at the same time.
Then the lights flash and for just an instant, there’s that tingle. A fleeting shiver of glee that comes from hearing lead fidget into socket, kick drum rattling your rib-cage. That feeling fades thanks to a message reminding you that you can scroll your mouse to look at the ceiling.
The way this ‘virtual gig’ naturally inclines towards alienating the viewer sadly does not suit a band like Fontaines D. C., who specialise in detached cool. The hollow atmosphere calls out for an entertainer to throw out posture and give it absolutely everything. The strength of Fontaines D. C. is that they don’t do that; they’re intense Dubliners, currently leaning more towards the Finnegan’s Wake end of things. However, this hardly lends them to this new frontier of concert-going, Wall-E style. Surely this is the opportunity to do something radical? Briefly, the yearn to pogo alongside little yellow block men while watching a 30ft tall avatar of Lil Nas X is understandable.
It doesn’t help that in the early part of the set the band are struggling to find a rhythm. The songs begin tentatively and end abruptly. Frontman Grian Chatten does his moody Irish poet thing while barely moving a muscle. It’s only when they move down a gear that Fontaines D. C. locate the right groove. The sequence of ‘I Don’t Belong’, ‘You Said,’ and ‘Oh Such A Spring’ provides a strong showcase of their album 'A Hero’s Death', one of 2020’s best. On each, Chatten’s lovely nursery-rhyme baritone sits atop waves of reverb. It’s this niche as My Bloody Pogues which they ought to pursue, as opposed to the less inspiring indie of their debut, Dogrel. That album’s ‘ois’ and ‘sha sha shas’ brush up uncomfortably against the lilting ‘ahhs’ and ‘oohs’ of the songs from A Hero’s Death.
Once they get going, Fontaines D. C. are a seriously promising band. That’s not to damn with faint praise, but to rather suggest how far they truly could go. They are sweetly humble at the end of the gig, with Chatten mumbling into the mic, "Thanks for not telling us to fuck off, there’s not much else we can do besides this at the moment." You have to hand it to Fontaines D. C. for fighting against the vogue for impromptu hiatus. Besides Jeff Bezos, this is not the time for anyone, but it is especially not the time for a rock band who thrives off a pawing, heaving mass of adulators.
For the sake of music’s endurance, the message should be: stream virtual gigs, it’s just the same! Alas, in this case you’d likely be better off buying a t-shirt from Bandcamp. As the band slouch off, and MelodyVR chirrups, ‘Thanks for watching!’ it is hard not to feel a void. Something really is missing.
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Words: Miles Ricketts