Gifted Live with Duke Special - Empire, Belfast
The Empire Music Hall, Belfast
Thursday 7th June 2012
The stages are set for this month’s Gifted Live, with several acts from all over Ireland gearing up to play to a worldwide audience through the magic of the internet. Although this set-up could be the reason why the crowd is a little sparser than average this evening, there is still a great buzz for the seven acts playing live in The Empire.
The first band of the evening is A Plastic Rose, with a short set seeing the band placed in a more acoustic setting. Ian McHugh finishes the set with a powerful solo song, with the energy he puts into the performance almost causing him to trip over the many fuzz boxes littered around the stage.
They are followed by power trio Window Seats. While their sound is usually riff-driven alt-rock, their performance is slightly mellower, with acoustic guitar replacing electric and drummer Tony playing the harmonium instead. This approach works well on both ‘Awake’ and ‘Miss Midnight’, but it is during ‘Juliet’s Letter’ that this set-up is at its finest, with the stripped-back approach of the night’s set helping to amplify the song’s tender undertones.
Up next is Pugwash, with singer Thomas Walsh greeting the crowd with a sailor salute. Their sunshine jangle-pop works as the perfect antithesis for the evening’s dreary weather, with ‘Answers on a Postcard’ (which Thomas calls a “silly song”) and ‘There You Are’ bringing great warmth to the evening. Walsh is ever the genial front man, and as the band leaves the stage following the conclusion of ‘Apples’, there is the feeling that Pugwash is a band capable of putting a big smile on your face.
Up next are The 1930s, who are augmented for this performance by two members of More than Conquerors. Their folk rock goes down well with the crowd, with ‘I’m a Vapour’ and the transcendental ‘Sisters & Brothers’ getting the biggest response. Following them on the main stage is the high-energy Tieranniesaur. Although the early part of their set is marred by a few technical difficulties, the group compose themselves well and put in a decent set of funky pop tunes. Heavy slap bass and synthesisers are plentiful throughout, with ‘Here Be Monsters’ being a particular highlight.
The surprise package of the evening comes courtesy of Dublin singer/songwriter Gavin James. Although his set only contains two songs, it is all he needs in order to get the crowd behind him. It would be trite to attempt to label him the Irish Ed Sheeran, not least because of his red hair, but he does share finesse for working the crowd. This is exemplified during ‘Two Nights’, where he gets the crowd to sing along perfectly to a song they are hearing for the first time. It is a short yet satisfying set, and is surely a sign of good things to come.
“The camera doesn’t make you look 10 pounds heavier, just sweaty and old”, jokes Duke Special as he adjusts to seeing his headline performance played out on The Empire’s big screen. The machine-gun beats of ‘My Lazy Saviour’ introduces the set with a bang, whilst new songs like ‘Punch of a Friend’ and ‘Snakes in the Grass’ get a similar level of crowd approval to more familiar songs like ‘Salvation Tambourine’ and ‘Last Night I Nearly Died.’ Duke is on top form throughout, joking with the crowd and offering us the background behind each song played. He ends his set in a decidedly rock star fashion, by removing his keyboard from its stand, playing it sideways and trying (and failing) to destroy it. It’s a surprisingly surreal moment to a great evening of music.