Skibunny, Rams' Pocket Radio
The Barge (docked at the Waterfront Hall), Belfast
Thursday, 16th September, 2010
It feels like every other gig these days is celebrating the launch of something or other, so Skibunny and label Smalltown America have taken drastic steps to ensure their album is given the show it deserves: specifically, the show is on a barge on the Lagan, and it's free. So far so good. We descend into the hull, impressively decked out for the occasion with full PA and lighting rig, and are greeted by a woozy DJ set by Coney Island Sound, once of Olympic Lifts.
Sole support on board HMS Album Launch (actually it's called the MV Confiance) comes from Rams' Pocket Radio, essentially the solo project of Mojo Fury drummer Peter McAuley. When playing as a four-piece band, Rams' Pocket Radio are a huge, bombastic beast, but in solo form the songs sound curiously one dimensional, too often relying on the same dynamic tricks (often: hitting the really low notes really hard). It sounds very earnest, very American and very much like fellow piano-based artist Silhouette. That's not to say they're bad songs - they're emphatically not - and in a more intimate setting the same set could be moving indeed, but on an otherwise celebratory night they come across a little awkwardly.
After a very eclectic DJ Set from Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite, Skibunny, looking slightly nervous, take to a Belfast stage for the first time in months. Whether it's the occasion, the setting or a deliberate shift, the Skibunny live sound is bigger and more muscular than I remember - the playful, gentle single Aah Ooh is positively raucous; Walk Don't Walk ("here I am again!") is even a bit menacing - and newly confident live drums have moved to the fore, having previously been somewhat hidden behind the programmed beats and synths. A problem with Skibunny's live show in the past was that they could sound like a backing track with a band playing over it, but as Tanya thrashes at her Les Paul, Skibunny feels more like a band than it ever has before.
Remote Control's chorus - "Take my hand / I want to go far away from here" - is genuinely lovely and it sounds all the better for being performed as a simple guitar-pop song, and there's a change of pace with the almost funky swagger of Up Down.
The clever live visuals add to the sense that this is less a gig, more an event, and the set is crowned by a joyous version of No Diggity, complete with cameo from Team Fresh's Slaine Browne. What could easily be an absurd novelty cover is instead the perfect way to end the night; focus on Mark's fringe flopping around and you could be back at the club where Skibunny made their name. I mean that as high, high praise.
Phily Taggart interviews Skibunny's Tanya Melotte & Mark Gordon
before their album launch on a barge in Belfast.