So it was announced last week that At the Drive-In are to reform and play selected shows this year. Across the Line were big fans of the band and actually recorded their Belfast show back in 2000. On the night, a young Derry band were chosen to support at the gig, and Cahir O'Doherty the bands singer, and now frontman with long-standing ATL faves Fighting With Wire gives us the view from backstage.
At The Drive-in. Belfast Empire. 9/11/00
It was November 2000. I remember getting a phone call from our manager telling me that our band (Clearshot) got the support slot for the At The Drive-In Irish shows, we couldn’t believe it. At the time the band were just breaking, one arm scissor was all over MTV and radio, they were in every music publication, their 3rd album relationship of command was creeping its way into everyone’s CD player and they had just ripped the roof off the Jools Holland show putting on one of the most energetic punk rock performances I’ve ever seen on TV! It was so exciting, there hadn’t been a buzz in rock music like this since Nirvana 10years earlier, but it wasn’t until they broke up shortly after the Irish dates, that they cemented their place as one of the most influential bands of the last 20 years.
The show was in Belfast Empire music hall 9th December 2000. When we arrived at the venue to sound check everyone was really nice and made us feel welcome. The Murder City Devils were the main support, they were a kick ass garage punk band from Seattle, they were funny guys and liked to party.
The guys from ATDI were really nice too, a couple of them watched our sound check and invited us into their dressing room, they seemed tired, I could tell they had been touring forever. At this point the different factions within the band had already manifested and were sticking together - Jim, Tony and Paul who later formed Sparta and Omar and Cedric who formed The Mars Volta.
The gig was sold out, the Empire was packed and there was an air of anticipation. We didn’t know what to expect playing in front of so many people as we took to the stage, but the audience were totally up for it, it was a great show. I don’t think we knew at that point that how influential this show would be for us as a band, we thought we knew what we were doing we were about to get taught a lesson.
We got our gear off the stage super quick and headed into the crowd with a few beers to watch these American bands tear Belfast a new one. Murder City Devils hit the stage, they were full of energy and honesty and blasted the crowd hard, it was guitar attack, full on punk rock. Lethal!
At this point you could cut the tension with a knife. I remember hearing this weird electronic intro music really low and then ATDI literally exploded on to the stage. I was blown away, totally immersed in their show. I had never seen anything like it, Cedric bounced all over the stage pulling weird shapes yelping and firing the mic into the air occasionally strangling himself with the cord and screaming Beware! Beware! Omar beating his guitar, throwing it wrestling it, making it sound like an explosion! I’d never heard a guitar sound like that before. They were losing their minds while the rest of the band thrashed it out so hard, like their lives depended on it. I was mesmerized, as was everyone in the room, it felt like we were getting to see something very special and we all knew it. Their songs and their passion for what they were doing filled the room and influenced me for one completely. I knew I had to rethink everything at that point and it felt great. The only thing that got tiresome was their constant battle with the audience slam dancing or moshing though, It was truly one of the best shows I have ever seen. By the time the band finished everyone in that room had that look on their face; the open mouth, the look of disbelief, what the **** just happened? There was a buzz about it for ages and it wasn’t the tinnitus we all had from the crushing guitars, it was the fact we had something to get excited about again, rock music had become so dull, so predicable and here were these guys doing what they always believed in, it was inspiring.
A month or so later the band went on indefinite hiatus, to say I was disappointed is an understatement. But looking back there was nothing else they could do. Exhaustion had taken its toll and so the flood gates opened. So many bands crawled out of the underground and into the mainstream, rock was alive and kicking once again.
I saw Nirvana 10 years before in the kings hall and I had the same feeling leaving that show, a feeling of hope and excitement for the future. Here was a band that got it so right and worked so hard only to burn out before they reached their full potential. They set the bar so high for themselves and for every band that followed. For me ATDI were the last band to breath life back into rock and roll. I’m excited that they have reformed at a time when we’ve never needed them more.
Cahir O'Doherty is now lead singer and guitarist with Fighting With Wire.