Cutaways, Boathouse, Strait Laces, Yes Cadets
What with the relentless rain and approximately 57 other credible gig alternatives in Belfast tonight, Cutaways may have feared the worst. As it turns out, the magnificent (and underused) Empire is respectably full from early on, damp bodies standing to attention for each of the four bands.
After two promising newcomers in Yes Cadets and Strait Laces, Boathouse appear and go straight for the throat. They will never be the coolest of bands, but music this honest and intense rarely is. They invest every inch of their souls into these heart-bursting anthems, frontman Gerry McCrudden in particular giving of himself entirely in trying to communicate with his audience. The contrast between his timid between-song chat and the pure power of his soaring voice is marked. However, although you get the sense that they are at times aiming for Arcade Fire levels of transcendence, they never quite get there, The Waterboys circa 'This Is The Sea' being a better reference point. Muddy sound doesn't help and a few of the songs are a touch below par, but there is an enjoyable band here. On another night, they could be great.
In complete contrast to the passionate Big Music of Boathouse, Cutaways - surely the best-looking band in Belfast - deal in bright colours, fast tempos and hooks aplenty. From Paul McIver's quite ridiculous attire and Grace McMacken's fluorescent keyboard stand to the huge cardboard chicks adorning the stage, everything about the band screams 'fun'. And it is striking how different they look and sound compared to a couple of years ago. Then a four-piece, the band dealt in fizzing, guitar-driven power pop. Now, shorn of bass player and original keyboardist, Paul and Grace's vocal interplay recalls Los Campesinos! in its excitable call-and-response, while the buzzing synth basslines lock into the herky-jerky drumming.
'I Spilled Your Drink So You Broke My Heart' is an early winner, but two key songs end up being the unrivalled highlights of the night. Other acts would sell their grannies for either the riff or the chorus of the delirious 'Weapon Of Choice' never mind both, while 'Lovers Are Lunatics' - played second-last - is given the treatment it deserves, as a pair of nifty hand puppets shake and jig from behind the props.
With another song to play, the gig ends as it began - a touch underwhelming. But it doesn't detract too much from a joyous, riotously fun performance by a band that have embraced pop music and are determined to twist it into exciting new shapes. 'Are we having fun?', they implore on 'I Don't Understand What You Don't Say'.
Yes, and we won't be the last.