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A Plastic Rose, Dutch Schultz, The Good Fight, Robyn G Shiels

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ATL | 17:58 UK time, Friday, 17 September 2010

The Menagerie, Belfast
Wednesday, 15th September, 2010

Fatigue is starting to hit Team ATL by this stage of Belfast Music Week, but the healing powers of music shall save us all. The relatively gentle Robyn G Shiels is a nice start for our shattered bodies. Indeed, all alone this evening, he seems wearier than us as his folky, country blues tells maudlin tales of sorrow reminiscent of Johnny Cash in his later days. Like Cash, or another dour man of great voice, Mark Lanegan, he seems fascinated by loss and religion, as he sings with a lying-in-the-gutter smile. Shiels acknowledges this though, with jokey references to "happy songs" and "disco tunes" like Hello Death My Old Friend. After the bittersweet set ends we, like the man himself, need a strong drink, both to toast and to drown.

Raising morale a bit are The Good Fight, purveyors of the melodic alternative emotional guitar rock that is doing the rounds these days. And they do it well, hinting at bands like Athlete, in-between breaking guitars (in their defence, it's the first post-hiatus gig, they've probably forgotten how to hold them). Tracks like Landslide and Hospitals are catchy indie rock, but unfortunately, tonight they're lacking something - that one track/guitar hook/chorus to lift them above the masses. Their charm helps, but it's too restrained, as they neither build tension to a critical point, nor go wild enough to captivate, despite the threats to do so in their closing number. A Good Fight, but a split decision loss tonight.

More than making up for any lack of wildness so far are Dutch Schultz who, to get technical, beat it out. Monkeys, with its catchy little chka-chka riff, swings like an ape on spiked bananas, and notorious past single Bends In The Middle is as good as ever, providing a little bit of gentle relief from their usual riff assault. Equally notorious track LACF is just insanely catchy, albeit not one to teach your granny. Finishing with Jailbreak, they're an example of the aesthete of dumb (to steal someone else's phrase); they're not stupid, but they don't see the need to be overly clever or fussy, instead just battering us with a few riffs, a few smiles, and a few decibels above what it should be. And more power to it.

Headlining this showcase evening are local favourites A Plastic Rose making one of their (now rarer) forays onto the Belfast stage, having been working on new material. Of course we're more familiar with the old stuff, but Two Steps, while new, is a continuation of the melodic, epic emotion that they're known for. And herein lies the contrast with The Good Fight; A Plastic Rose give the impression of straining to reach, of effort, and of leaving every last bit of themselves there on the stage. And that is why we love them, the rapscallion rabble rousers. Of course, it helps when you can back up the effort with songs like Kids Don't Behave Like This, still as good as ever with its shout-along chorus, but it's 'Fade & Disappear that steals the set, shimmering as it slowly and methodically builds to the stars that Robyn was looking at.

William Johnston


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