John Blek and The Rats, The 1930s, Sons of Caliber
Things are running a bit late, and the busy crowd in McHugh's basement are primed and ready for Sons of Caliber when they take to the stage. The folk troupe have been causing a little bit of a stir lately, and with good reason. Main-man Andrew Farmer commands the stage in an easy going and relaxed nature that would surely see others ignored, but the charm and honesty of this band shines through and captivates anybody in the same room.
The set is that of a brilliant band in the embryonic stage; it's exciting to watch but you know it's just the beginning of something more fully formed down the line. Andrew and Rosie Barry's dual vocals intertwine beautifully, whilst the musicianship behind it all is second to none. The set is a mixture of modern folk akin to Mumford & Sons, with other songs recalling the haunted sound of the Dust Bowl states of the southern USA.
These beautifully arranged songs could do with a little more percussion at times than just Andrew's lone bass drum, but overall it feels like we're witnessing the beginning of one hell of a band.
The 1930s continue the theme of close-knit harmonies, and at first, take the pace up a notch with a newly added bass player. Jonny Solari's low vocal in the verses gets lost a bit, but with songs like ï¿½Break My Heart',
'All These Things' and 'I'm a Vapour', the bands catchiness is clearly on show.
A cover of Fleet Foxes 'Winter Hymnal' isn't really necessary, while a new anthemic song chanting, 'Brothers and sisters, we can be stronger' has the 1930s stamp through and through. They're a tight two piece whose chuggy rhythmic folk songs get the crowd going, but the addition of the bass player really helped lift it in places, and you can't help feel that a fuller arrangement could help diversify the set a bit. ?
Up from the deep south (aka Cork) tonight are John Blek and the Rats. A frontman driven country rock band, with their sights set on the party, they storm into action and make sure we're all ready to get involved. John Blek himself delivers lines with such gusto and passion that he demands your attention and devotion. It's fairly predictable stuff, but played impeccably and with the professional crowd interaction only a well toured band can have.
There are elements of Dylan, recent Ryan Adams, and a hint of The Waterboys in parts, but it starts to drag as they play song, after song, after song. The lull in the middle of the set is reversed at the end though, as they get The 1930s and Sons of Caliber (and in turn the whole bar) to join in with their 'agnostic gospel song', shouting the line 'Lord, Don't Leave Me' in unison, creating an unexpected hoedown on a quiet Belfast week night.