As the recent period of great vitality of the rock and punk scene seems at last to be also reaching Cardiff, it was certainly exciting to see the Moon sold out for what presented itself as a particularly strong double bill, as Irish punks Fontaines DC took their UK tour to Wales with support from Hotel Lux. I have been following both bands for quite some time, so it was a particularly nice treat to see them play one after the other, and I was under the impression that a good chunk of the audience was in the same exact frame of mind. They weren’t disappointed; even with the inexplicably late start times that appear for some reason to be the norm at the Moon, the gig was one of the strongest of the season. This was not only in spite, but in a sense thanks to the space limitations that the Moon has; I had some concerns as to a band like Fontaines DC, in particular, which I had previously seen mostly on larger stages and who has a special pacing, confrontational stage presence, would fare with the somewhat cramped space available here for performers. I shouldn’t have worried. In fact, the space restriction made for a show that was not more intimate, but more powerful, with a beautiful tension between the bands and the audience that is something that goes perfectly with this kind of music. Both sets reached a very high intensity very quickly, and kept it up throughout a running time that felt, again in both cases, too short. It was a perfect showcase of the strength and vitality that these young bands are bringing back to the scene, something that has been for years very much needed.
Hotel Lux have long been a special favourite of mine. There is something in their sound that defies description, which is probably apt, because defiance is the band’s trademark. They are brave enough to play with longer tracks than are usually found in this kind of music, they have bold lyrics, and mix a variety of influences with the ability to keep their audience constantly on its toes. The ability to range from almost bluesy chords to rough punk vocals with some disruptive keyboards thrown in for good measure makes their sound immediately recognisable; there isn’t anything else quite like it in the UK scene at the moment. They have a stage presence that felt in some moments tense, deliberately uncomfortable, bringing back to mind some old classics from the 70s and 80s but seeing them under a completely new light. It was a very tight, effective set, delivered at an almost perfect pace, and a performance that confirms them as a band that can be expected to have a lot more to say in the future. Set-opener The Last Hangman started the performance on a particularly strong note and immediately plunged the audience into the mood. It is to be hoped that the band will come back to Cardiff with its own headline show at some point – this set felt like an excellent taster, but there is clearly so much more.
Dubliners Fontaines D.C. offered a highly anticipated headline. The band’s name has been buzzing among punk fans for quite a while now, and hopes are high for the release of an album hopefully in the new year. Once again this is a band that has a particularly strong and recognisable voice; the contrast between the dirty, noisy sound and the clearly delivered, confrontational vocals is unique to them and makes them stand out even in a scene that has recently produced a good number of interesting new acts. As the closing show of their UK run, their set at the Moon provided a cavalcade through a number of audience favourites; Liberty Belle had the audience shouting and dancing and made for a particularly fine movement. Turning the constraint of the limited space to their favour, they gave it a feel like the music was struggling to get out of a cage, which delivered a very successful added punch. It was also a technically tight performance, with the rhythm section on point at all times and some impressively strong vocals. The chemistry this band manages to have with its audience is something special; I have seen it at work in larger venues and it seemed to be amplified by the smaller space in the Moon. With plenty of riffs that will stay with the audience long after (one thinks for instance of Hurricane Laughter), it was a performance that perfectly exemplified what Fontaines D.C. are capable of.
It has been clear for a while that punk and rock are far from dead – they are, in fact, enjoying a renaissance of sorts, and gigs like this are proof of it. As Cardiff is finally opening up to this trend, let’s hope it can welcome more interesting young bands, and gather audiences as enthusiastic as this, in the coming year.