Irish Rockers Fontaines D.C. Ease Into Saturday Night Set at Beachland Ballroom

click to enlarge Irish Rockers Fontaines D.C. Ease Into Saturday Night Set at Beachland Ballroom
Photo by Eric Heisig

It took a minute for Fontaines D.C. to hit its stride on Saturday.

The Dublin-based rockers, performing to an overflowing crowd at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, was a welcome surprise when it opened for punk rockers Idles in the same room in 2019. With three strong albums and increased popularity in Europe under its belt (it just scored its first No. 1 album in the U.K.), the quintet seemed poised to exceed that previous high.

Instead, the group seemed unsure of itself as it began its 70-minute set.

With the band’s shows once consisting of a relentless stream of noisy post-punk, the band had since branched out.

While its debut, Dogrel, had one noisy tune after another, subsequent albums A Hero’s Death and last month’s Skinty Fia saw Fontaines D.C. trying new musical styles. The band now uses acoustic instruments. Lead singer Grian Chatten now actually sings some his songs instead of breathlessly barking them at a crowd.

The problem, as Saturday’s show began, was that Chatten and the four others didn’t quite seem to know how to physically perform their more varied material. While the music sounded great, the performances nevertheless lacked the extra spark to put the songs over the top.

My initial thought was that Fontaines D.C. was struggling to adapt to a more varied set. I was wrong. The band soon found its footing, even if it never matched the heights of the last show here.

New standouts such as “Nabakov” fit in perfectly with “Chequeless Reckless” and “Too Real,” both from Dogrel. Chatten’s nervous-yet-confrontational style — he paced around the stage when he wasn’t clutching his microphone or trying to rile up the crowd — carried the show. The four others seemed content to let him do the heavy performative lifting.

The music became muscular and (way) louder, elevating “Televised Mind,” “A Hero’s Death” and “Boys in the Better Land” far beyond their recorded versions.

Closing a three-song encore was “Jackie Down the Line,” a semi-acoustic tune off its new album, Chatten waved his arms, encouraging the audience to join in. He mostly succeeded, providing a fitting finale for a show that only got better as it chugged along.

Maybe the band just needed a minute to get warmed up.

Opening band Just Mustard prepared concertgoers for the headliner by gradually deafening them. Fronted by singer Katie Ball only in theory, bassist Rob Clarke was most prominent in the mix as the quintet veered from one shoegaze song to the next.

Despite the music that the crowd could feel in its bones, the songs ran together during a 30-minute set. The band, also from Ireland, mostly stood still and emotionless. Ear-bleeding noise can be memorable, but only if a band has the tunes to match.
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