Fleet Foxes, Villagers, The Low Anthem
The Low Anthem open tonight's proceedings gathered around one microphone, bellowing some bluegrass, much in the same vein as the rock and roll groups of the 50's. The Providence quartet soon dispense with the old Sun Studios vibe in favour of something a little more current and left field.
Banjos are played with bows, instruments are swapped like football stickers in the playground, while clarinets, trumpets and organs litter the stage. It's hard to keep up with who is playing what, and what exactly is being played. The drummer also seems to have this problem, often drifting into 'jazz timing', as the cool cats might call it, or just plain 'out of time', as you and I might understand it. He pulls it back towards the end, destroying his drum kit to add a little bit of rock and roll drama to the mid paced folk scene of Custom House Square.
Villagers are back in Belfast for their third gig in Belfast in ten months. Last September they sold out the intimate Black Box. Then onto the mid capacity venue of the Spring and Airbrake, selling that one out, and now centre stage at the vast Custom House Square, and guess what - it's sold out too.
It's clear tonight that this isn't just going to be another showcase of the debut album Becoming a Jackal, instead opting to use the reverential Custom House Sq crowd as guinea pigs for his new material. 'Memoir' is as subtle and lyrically grandiose as anything that Conor O'Brien has written before, and isn't much of a departure from the debut album. Encouraging signs for album number two.
Of course he doesn't alienate the debut record, 'Pieces' ,and the Ivor Novello winning 'Becoming a Jackal' are highlights of the set, even teasing a very polite sing-a-long that proves to be as raucous as happy hour at the chess club. However tonight is not about getting loose, it's about getting lost in the transcendence of this updated folk line up.
By this stage in the evening, the mainly static crowd is beginning to get loose, limbs are jingling freer, conversations are up ten decibels from an hour ago, and the near midnight bellow of "I love you, man!" will be with us intermittently. The perfect time for Fleet Foxes to take the stage.
They begin their inaugural Northern Irish show in much the same way Villagers did by treating us to new material, in the form of second album Helplessness Blues. It doesn't hinder the set particularly, as the songs are well crafted and received, but it does mean that if you are here to hear the debut album, you might want to take a seat for the first nine songs.
Live, their tracks take on a new lease of life. The often genteel folk songs are performed much more like a dirty, raw, rock and roll gig, rather than the traipsing around the may pole on market day that - if being honest - ATL had prepared itself for.
'White Winter Hymnal' is the obvious candidate for moment of the night, but for ATL the encore of 'Oliver James' and 'Helplessness Blues' kicks us into touch, sending us out as very happy campers. Who needs to sit in and jealously watch Glastonbury footage on the iPlayer, when a line up like this is presented to you on your door-step?