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Gig Review
Chain and the Gang, Girls Names
The pleasant murmur of conversation in the Menagerie is broken as Girls Names launch into the fuzzy, shoegaze gothic pop that's garnered acclaim for their debut album 'Dead To Me', and it's easy to see why they've been making something of a name for themselves. Those sparkling surf-rock riffs are wonderfully tempered by the reverb-drenched vocals and angular basslines. Tonight, however, is a bit different.  In a set briefly marred by some harsh feedback, singer and guitarist Cathal Cully knocks the microphone to one side before the band pick up pace again and launch seamlessly into 'I Lose', ending on a flurry of 'Séance on a Wet Afternoon'.
Such a mildly anarchic move is out of character for a typically polished Girls Names set, but it's fitting for tonight, at least.  It's almost (although extremely accidentally so) a nod to the performance-heavy punk origins of Chain and the Gang and the frenzy which is about to come.
Chain and the Gang is the latest in a string of musical projects founded by Ian Svenonius, ex-singer of 80's post-hardcore band Nation of Ulysees and 90's indie-rock troublemakers The Make-Up. On record, its jailhouse-rock blues are as strikingly perverse in their political nature and lyrical content as they are in their groove and rhythm, but missing something of the life, soul and intensity that the influential frontman is renowned for bringing to his performances.
Tonight in the Menagerie is no different: a yellow-suited Svenonius breaks through the crowd and scissor kicks his way onto stage, backed by the gently rocking band suitably attired in black and white mock prisoner outfits. It has a curious feel to it - part cabaret, part gig. By adopting the stage personae of 'Chain', Svenonius becomes part polemicist, part poet, part preacher in his mix of spoken word and screaming, stage-defying antics, and is as commanding as a performer as he is an artist in his own right.
It all melds together wonderfully in his uniquely enigmatic style. While Sevnonius is wild-eyed and leaves the stage to dance and thrash through the crowd as many times as he actually stays on it, the rest of the band stays in the background, playing slinking 60's organs and smooth blues guitar. In the quiet troughs of highly intense spoken-word moments where he both demands the enraptured attention of the crowd and earns it, the band then break into wrenching, organic rock 'n roll peaks and transform an otherwise reserved Menagerie into a dancing, twisting mob. 'Reparations', for example, finds him wedged upright between the stair rail and the ceiling, looking down at the crowd and asking before launching himself into it, goading them with his lyrics.  
It's obvious Chain and the Gang wear the politics of their frontman on their sleeve, albeit in a highly intelligent, tongue-in-cheek way, but this negates their premise.  This is a band which needs to be experienced in order to be understood.
Aoife McKeown

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Gig Details
Venue: Menagerie
Location: Belfast
Date: 21/5/2011

Related Links
+ Chain and the Gang