live review ~ gay pride fundraiser ~ oh yeah centre, belfast ~ 31/7/15

Is it wrong to review a show you've put on yourself? Quite possibly, but after the success of our collaboration with the Oh Yeah Centre for Gay Pride we felt it'd be unfair not to...

Opening proceedings came Jealous of the Birds, a remarkable songwriter who's came out of nowhere to entrance venues across Belfast with every show. Throughout her performance she sounds relaxed and confident, breezing her way down a set of depth and warmth. 'Capricorn' favorite 'Bipolar' sounds magnificent here, the bittersweet lyricism painting a darker portrait than her bohemian style may first suggest. Even the 'Happy, happy...happiness...' refrain sounds ever so troubled, as if escaping to a safer place. Her new songs too already sound wonderful. Delicate touches and that distinctive voice keep the room near silent, a silence only broken by very loud, justified applause. The highlight of the set, however, came in 'Heart Shaped Box', a bold cover by anyone's standards, but particularly for an acoustic artist. Twisting the track ever so slightly, Nirvana's classic sounds reinvigorated here.

Raw and uncompromising, the raw punk power of Shannon O'Neill (also known as Sister Ghost) proved a thrilling addition to the night's entertainment. Better still, Sister Ghost's arrival to the stage marked the entrance of several girls on roller skates, temporarily transforming the venue into an 80's styled punk rock roller disco. Single 'Spineless Whisper' sounds menacing, Sister Ghost's palpable energy really transferring to the crowd, though it's the climactic crescendo of debut release 'Scent'  which really hits home here. O'Neill thinks nothing of jumping into the crowd, ringing out the songs massive breakdown surrounded by roller skaters. It's a truly great sight, and an even greater noise.

Hot Cops are a band in the ascendancy, writing furiously and at an astonishing pace. Tonight they open with yet another new song, haunting, foreboding and sonically growing ever more complex. Bass harmonics & quiet, hushed vocals combine to create their most menacing song to date. "Who's gonna stop me when you're gone?"

It's dark, drawing you in from the off. There's no great announcement, as ever, very little in the way of hello's. Hot Cops simply wait, draw you in and then crash seamlessly into "Passive Passive", a song which already feels like a classic and yet hasn't been released yet. All night this continues, another new track "Auto" let's the light in briefly, a happier refrain, though no less angular. The bands first big anthem 'Kenzies Farmhouse' also makes a rare appearance. It sounds huge, raw, Hot Cops sound ready. They look ready too, as the band casually chat to their audience, their witticisms fully appreciated here. There's a relaxed atmosphere from the band as they continue to work their way through the set. The bass riff from "Fallout", the sole live survivor from #1 Babes is raucous here and anyone who wasn't ready to move to Hot Cops magnificent noise certainly is now. "I remember shot gun shells at the party..." calls Eccles, as he grabs the mic, briefly leaving his guitar to rest in mid air. 

To end, they choose "Dumbo", the slow building climax this performance deserved. It rises and rises until it can't anymore and as Hot Cops crash their way to the finish line the most frustrating aspect of all is not having the room filled with like minded fans to thrash and sing alongside. No matter, as for now I'm happy to dance to Hot Cops alone. Maybe I should enjoy it, as I won't be alone for long.

Finally comes Tour Alaska, the long awaited solo debut of Gerry Norman. Known for his roaring battle cry with alt-rock's loudest band A Plastic Rose, for many the solo route was a path they never saw coming for the front man. For those who know him well, however, the softer side of Gerry Norman has always been there, just choosing it's moments carefully, like the Northern Irish sunshine. 'Indian Sheets', 'Garavouge' and older songs like the beautiful 'Silence You' are just some examples of Norman's huge range and power chords taking a back seat to the tip-toe delicacies of Tour Alaska. Tonight we hear a setlist comprised almost entirely of new songs, only the 90's tinged ode to Edinburgh 'Apple Disguise'  surviving from the archives. An optimistic strummer, 'Apple...'s stomp along chorus and uplifting lyricism ('I hope it's not the alcohol that made you kiss me') blends perfectly into Tour Alaska's new arsenal of songs, but not before the troubadour's troubles are laid on the line first. Songs like 'Calm In The Air'  and 'Crushed By An Angel' are sincere and heartfelt, staying far away from the formulaic sad song approach with inventive chord changes and captivating melodies.

Yes, there's pain on show, but with Tour Alaska it feels real and this is no more prevalent than during 'Old Grass Tennis Courts', another nod to his time in Scotland; and while the story of discovering an oasis quite literally in the shape of abandoned tennis courts is warm and joyous, lines like 'I quite like my family name and I enjoy the shame, I bring to it' keep you guessing, it's '9 Crimes' styled ambiguity gently drifting through. To finish, Norman brings out the big guns. 'Love Love Love', a song about, well, love, get's the Sligo native momentarily riled up. Having relaxed entirely throughout his set, here he sings passionately about the state of the nation. It's not in melt down, that's not what he's saying, but could it be better? Absolutely. It's a feeling that resonates with the vibes of the entire night, and as Tour Alaska sings of 'racist and discrimination cases' you can see members of the audience raising their arms, feeling the moment. The song ends with the audience as Norman's choir, singing the 'love, love, love!' chorus back to him. It must feel strange not having his band around him, but on his own Tour Alaska looks remarkably at home.

This may well be a night remembered for a long time yet. 

Taylor Johnson

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