Concert Review: Fontaines D.C. — Irish Darkness
By Paul Robicheau
At House of Blues, Fontaines D.C.’s brooding, bristling music was offset by shifting swatches of amber and purple lighting amid the shadows, casting the musicians in mysterious terms.
Irish post-punk outfit Fontaines D.C. finds itself in transition both in its music and ascending popularity. To make up for an April show canceled at the Paradise Rock Club due to singer Grain Chatten’s laryngitis, the Dublin quintet took the step up to the larger House of Blues on Thursday. And the band’s next local stop looks to be TD Garden in September 2023 as openers for a full Arctic Monkeys tour, all in the few pandemic-weighted years since Fontaines D.C. dropped its 2019 debut.
The group’s music likewise evolved since members moved from Dublin City (that’s the D.C.) to London, where the band put together its third studio album, Skinty Fia. Named after an Irish slur that translates to “damnation of the deer,” the record shows the quintet expanding in moody and melodic directions while honing songs that reflect disillusionment with cultural and economic disparities.
Darkness extended to Fontaines’ 16-song show at House of Blues. The brooding, bristling music was offset by shifting swatches of amber and purple lighting amid the shadows, casting the musicians in mysterious terms. The diffuse lighting made for a disorienting contrast to the energy in an opening shot of “A Lucid Dream” and “Hurricane Laughter” that quickly touched on each of the band’s first two albums. In the latter song, Chatten nervously paced like an animal, dragging his mic stand in circles. Conor Curley slid howling accents up his guitar neck behind the singer’s sober refrain “There is no connection available,” an ironic line for a band connecting with a wider Boston fan base since it first played tiny Great Scott in 2019.
The pace slowed as the group trudged through “I Don’t Belong” (culminating in Chatten’s admission “I don’t want to belong”) and the live debut of “Bloomsday,” a Skinty Fia track whose title nods to the protagonist of James Joyce’s Ulysses, given a grungy reading with Chatten strumming a 12-string acoustic. The band picked up again at mid-set, peaking in “Too Real” with a sonic frenzy where Carlos O’Connell twice lashed his guitar with a slide, the second time with a bottle.
Apart from anxious gestures, Chatten seemed content to lean into his mic or clutch it with his hands to sing in a dour monotone without care for visual projection (though he’d mark his territory by banging down the base of the mic stand after songs). Such detachment was conveyed in the resigned mantra “How Cold Love Is” and the poppier ride “Jackie Down the Line,” with three-part backup vocals from everyone but thump-savvy drummer Tom Coll. The singer stoically mulled, “Life ain’t always empty” in the galloping “A Hero’s Death” as something less than optimistic before ending the set with the title track of Skinty Fia. Conor Deegan echoed the Cure’s Disintegration era with a bass line that stuck to Coll’s funky undercut, as the broody song eventually dissolved with a brief wave goodbye.
But after a lingering six-minute break, Fontaines D.C. came back with heightened verve for the encore, inciting a churning pocket of fans on the floor to point and sing along to the lyrics of old favorite “Boys in the Better Land.” Then the band tackled the new album’s standout “I Love You,” a love-and-hate ode to Ireland. Chatten rushed through the love parts only to seethe headlong through its lines against political sharks and youth suicides, extending his hand as if pushing it away.
It made a compelling finish to a set that contained only 67 minutes of music, but despite — or perhaps because of — the emotional imperfections conveyed along the way, Fontaines D.C. made them count.
Paul Robicheau served more than 20 years as contributing editor for music at the Improper Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He was also the founding arts editor of Boston Metro.