The Last Waltz...
Cutaways, The Jane Bradfords, Ablespacer, Future Chaser
There are three absolute truths in the world of music. You can't dance to shoe-gaze, second albums almost always define a band and your favourite group will someday split up. And so it was with heavy hearts fans of Belfast band Cutaways arrived at the Empire Music hall for what was to be their last show - ever.
A week before the Gifted gig, the electro-pop trio announced they were shutting up shop. A mixture of band discord, frustration with their direction and the fact that one of the members was heading off to an exotic corner of the world were all apparently factors.
But before Paul McIver, Grace McMacken and Ryan Simpson took to the stage for the last time, there was strong support from Derry outfit Future Chaser, Ablespacer and the new look and sound of The Jane Bradfords.
First up is the young lads of Future Chaser. Youthful in age, but certainly establishing themselves as one of the must-see bands in Northern Ireland this year. A mixture of plumbing grungy depths and Greenday, Ataris inspired highs are met with impressive vocal caterwauling from frontman Niall Doherty. The highlight of the fast paced set has to be the bands current single 'Chances'. Definitely one to keep watching.
The most noteworthy element of Ablespacer's performance was the intricate and intelligent drumming of Richard van den Bos. Apart from this, the band seemed to be going through the motions. Some of the songs, including 'Draw A Line' hinted at the creative potential that had earned the band so much interest over previous months, but instead the growing Empire crowd was treated to quite a lacklustre performance.
The Jane Bradfords next, a band showing absolutely no signs of breaking up, in fighting or stagnation. The set was great, and for this reviewer a first chance to see the new and improved line-up. Gone are the Grandaddy infused synths and in their place, more guitars. Front man Declan Gallen has a great knack for getting the most out of every note and his vocals soared over some of their classic tracks, giving them a new polished twist.
But the night was for Cutaways. Break ups are never easy. Often fractious, tense, sometimes violent. Words are exchanged, harsh spiteful words. A box of CDs, a wardrobe of clothes on the step, plates broken. This is how it happens. But not for this relationship. This was their 'last fandango' as Rigsy described it and they planned to go out in style.
And the night wasn't just about music. As always, the band put so much more into their performance and they expect it back in spades from their audience. Hand-made decorations, sweets on all the tables and 'design your own' cds underlined one of the core-values of this group - having fun. As Grace urged ATL listeners: "This isn't a wake - it's a party."
So to the music. It wasn't the best Cutaways show in terms of performance. Maybe emotion and nerves took hold, but the whole gig seems to lack the energy this band are normally renowned for. But nonetheless the quality of the music still shone through.
Earth and Earthly Things is a powerful debut album in the vein of Architecture in Helsinki and it was great to hear the synth driven sounds of 'Milo of Kroton', 'I Spilled Your Drink', 'So You Broke My Heart' and the infectious single 'Lovers Are Lunatics'. By this point the floor of the Empire had woken up. The audience was getting it's dance on, but the party was nearly over.
Finishing the night with a new single off their scrapped second album (see my first paragraph...) the band gave us a glimpse, a taster of what could have been. It's ironic that 'We Were Closer In Winter Time', a song about drifting apart, is probably one of their strongest and mature to date.
And how fitting it happens to be about changing times.
So farewell Cutaways, catch you shortly Ablespacer (who are taking some time out for a bit) and any other bands thinking about chucking it in - can you at least wait a few weeks...?