Black Bear Saloon, Dutch Shultz, A Plastic Rose
It feels somewhat like a renaissance for Two Step at the moment, with a stream of extraordinarily well attended gigs this year. There has been much talk of a 'Golden Age' for Northern Irish music at the moment, and one only need look as far as the Limelight for proof of this. Scorching gigs which leave their mark upon your brain, and a filled to the brim club night, proving that there is a thirst for music in Northern Irish audiences at the moment.
Tonight is no exception, with Black Bear Saloon storming the stage with their burly, aggressive brand of rock and roll. Frontman Aaron Abernethy cuts an impressive figure upon the stage, living out the anger and emotion of the songs, whilst somehow managing to communicate an easygoing demeanour to the audience. Despite having several show-stopping songs, there are moments in the set where an unkind person may level the term 'filler' at them, a situation one can only hope that they resolve in the near future. And given the fury exhibited on stage this evening, this would not appear to be a vain hope.
In the recent past, Dutch Shultz courted controversy by recreating the video for their single, 'It bends in the Middle', which featured the talents of Northern Ireland's premier exponents of pole-based exercise, Polersize. Pole dancers, that is. This time around, they are shorn of such distractions, and are left to rest upon their own merits. However, from the opening chords blasted out from Willy Mundel's guitar, 'rest' is something these boys will not be doing tonight. Dutch Shultz have captured that elusive combination of power and melody, not quite sounding like an out and out RAWK band, but simultaneously sounding unlike any 'pop' band you've ever heard. These songs could sit easily on FM radio, but have enough guts to make themselves heard. In a set filled with huge choruses and massive riffs, 'It Bends in the Middle' stands out as an absolute highlight, the spectacle of these three men on stage somehow not enough to conjure the incredible noise created by the song. In an ideal world, radios would be blasting out these songs day and night.
By this point, the audience have been whipped into such a fervour that all A Plastic Rose need to do is come on stage and say, "Hello." Thankfully, they do so much more, with Gerry Norman tapping into his innate ability to become the consummate showman. Over the course of the last year, A Plastic Rose have evolved from one of those acts that one might to describe as "interesting", to a genuinely motivating force on the local scene. Tirelessly grasping every opportunity and draining everything they possibly can out of it, this is a band born to be on the stage, viewing the live performance as their God given right. There are few bands in the country who can engage an audience like this, and the crowd give as much back as they can. Every song sounds like an anthem, every moment an event. By the end, 'Kids' blasts out of the speakers and we are taken to another place. This is absolutely essential music.
And then it's over. One wonders who long we can maintain this sort of standard for what was once sneeringly referred to as a local gig. Looking around, perhaps we needn't worry.
Words: Steven Rainey