The Irish band are touring their second album "A Hero's Death"TWITTER/ BESTFITMUSIC

I had not been to the Corn Exchange before Monday night, an admission acceptable for a wide-eyed fresher, but not a jaded finalist like me. A combination of shyness and Covid meant that I never took advantage of Cambridge’s live music scene, but the onset of final year coupled with the undeniable pull of Fontaines DC persuaded me to buy a last-minute ticket to their Cambridge appearance, the third stop on their UK tour before heading on to Manchester for three sold out nights.

The Dublin five-piece were on blistering form, but my experience was about far more than the music. Unable to persuade any friends to come, I went alone, something I had never done before, and which made me feel surprisingly uneasy. Hanging around the stage while The Stooges played through the speakers, I keep the awkwardness at bay through observing the crowd: mostly edgy-looking teenagers (sometimes with parents in tow), a few students, and a surprising number of middle-aged fans clutching pints. At one point it occurs to me that I look slightly sketchy, skulking aloof at the side in a long coat, shooting furtive looks at everyone else, although I do spot a few others doing the same. However, once the music starts, the crowd ceases to interest me. Ever true to their homeland, Fontaines DC bring an Irish support band, The Altered Hours, who offer a self-assured half-hour set of heavy guitars, trance-inducing lighting and snarling vocals delivered by a swaggering frontman with Dylan-esque hair. In the audience, heads nod in appreciation, but it’s clear that most are fidgeting in anticipation of the headliners.

“The crowd can’t help but believe his solemnly delivered optimism, chanting along in mass affirmation”

The lights dim, and a pre-emptive cheer rings out. Unfashionably punctual, Fontaines DC take the stage. Formed in 2017, the band are often tagged with the nebulous label of ‘post-punk’, blending simple riffs with lyrics that are easy to sing along to, yet are swollen with articulate social criticism. Fontaines are currently touring their sophomore album, A Hero’s Death, and open with its title track. All eyes turn to frontman Grian Chatten, dressed down in Adidas tracksuit bottoms (a stark contrast to the elegant pink suit of guitarist Carlos O’Connell), twisting restlessly around the stage, imparting an extra urgency to his words. As Chatten repeatedly asserts that “Life ain’t always empty”, his lyrics so poetic, his monotone so earnest, the crowd can’t help but believe his solemnly delivered optimism, chanting along in mass affirmation of his sermon.

Frontman Grian Chatten performs with "urgency" and "spaced-out intensity"YOUTUBE/ LABLOGOTHEQUE

The energy increases as the band mix in tracks from their first album, Dogrel, named in homage to the Irish working-class poetry that has inspired them. More melodic than its successor, Dogrel brims with a confidence unusual in a debut, as Chatten punches out fan favourites like “Sha Sha Sha” and “Chequeless Reckless”. The angry, observational tone of Fontaines DC means they have punk credentials in spades, but they are marked by their lyrical complexity, and showcase mellow, tender songs, like “The Lotts” or “You Said”. The latter of these sees Chatten resume his role as soulful poet, cradling the microphone stand and looking out from under his lashes with a spaced-out intensity that later compels a fan to throw what looks like underwear towards the stage.

“Although the songs are captivatingly raw, they are tightly and cleanly performed”

After eighteen months without live music, I decide to test out the mosh pit during ‘Hurricane Laughter’ – as usual, the novelty wears off quickly and I decide that I’m just not physically built for it. By this point, Fontaines have whipped through about two thirds of their discography, and although the songs are captivatingly raw, they are tightly and cleanly performed – I can’t recall the band saying a word to either one another or the audience. After the frenetic “Boys in the Better Land”, they wave and quietly depart amid the clamour for “One more song!” from the crowd. No one is surprised, but everyone is elated when they return for an encore, finishing with “Liberty Belle”, my favourite track from Dogrel.


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Admittedly, the band did not use the live performance as a chance to experiment, and the songs were kept very true to their recorded versions. But this may have been the appeal – with no frills, the energy and honesty that underpins the allure of Fontaines DC came to the fore. I was entranced from beginning to end, and I secretly appreciated that I had not brought any friends to distract me. The band thrived in the intimate venue of the Corn Exchange, and I certainly regret not visiting it in first year. However, perhaps it’s fitting that this was my first trip: I always associate Fontaines DC with Cambridge because I spent my first Michaelmas term listening to Dogrel on repeat in the rainy autumn of 2019. Two years, two albums and three lockdowns later, it was a joy to come full circle.