Cutaways, Desert Hearts, Panda Kopanda
Entertaining yet a little depressing - it's been a strange night. The big question is - where are the young 'uns?
A reasonable crowd have weighed in for Cutaway's album launch, but looking about this room you see the same faces - the same sceneters and collection of people that have been going to this type of gig for the last three or four years. There doesn't seem to be many people under the age of, say 22 - which is more than a little distressing.
Granted all three bands have been around for years - but surely they are still well capable of appealing to a younger crowd? For a start, a few fresh faces about the place would add a little enthusiasm and spice up an irritatingly flat atmosphere. And you can also rely on their support for a few years to come, long after the average punter tonight can't get a babysitter or has just stopped going to gigs altogether.
It's a shame they're missing out, as tonight's gig is an absolute treat. Panda Kopanda are the best this reviewer has ever seen them (and again, it's been years) - mainly because the incredible sound tonight (seriously, it's about as good as we've ever heard in any venue) is allowing the intricate, detailed sound that dominates their debut album shine through. At one point Jonny is touching riffs on his guitar while squelching out basslines on a keyboard and it sounds pretty magical. The entire band are holding back - there's a real discipline here that does these great songs justice. 'A Humble God' stands out as a would-be sleeper hit.
Hard to know what to say about Desert Hearts. Yes, those new songs are promising and of course it's wonderful to hear classic (in Northern Irish music terms) tracks like 'Sea Punk' and 'No More Art'. But this band are in a weird limbo - rarely playing gigs, with no word of a new release. The worry is they'll disappear altogether, or worse still - people will just stop caring. As one of the greatest bands this country has ever produced, that would be an incredible shame.
It's all about Cutaways tonight and it's good to see they've made the effort. There are cardboard birds on stage and keyboardist Grace has been handing out animal finger puppets. Best of all, a face painter is doing good business and by the time Cutaways begin their set, quite a few tigers, cats and Ziggy Stardusts' are in attendance.
The music matches the face paint - occasionally daft and always fun. We even allow them a slightly surreal take on 'I Can't Dance' by Genisis, knowing that the truly awesome 'Lovers are Lunatics' is just around the corner. The whole album shimmers tonight - 'Fight to the Death' and 'Milo of Kroton' in particular could do serious business for this lot, if they play their cards right.
Northern Ireland needs a band like Cutaways, it just doesn't know it yet.