Bleeding Heart Pigeons At Whelan’s – Review
Released in 2013 while still in their teens, Limerick three-piece Bleeding Heart Pigeons’ debut EP In A Room In Littleton Colorado was one of the most daring and original releases from an Irish act this decade. With its narrative spoken from the viewpoint of the Columbine High School massacre gunmen, it was an uncomfortable yet exhilarating listen that recalled Radiohead at their late 90’s OK Computer-era peak. Met with rave reviews, the release’s three tracks showcased a young band with endless potential as industry buzz gradually built around them. Support slots with Little Green Cars and an appearance on seminal Irish music show Other Voices followed. While lyrics like ‘I want to feel life spill over me, don’t blame my parents, there was nothing they could do’ and ‘I’m waiting on a chemical reaction in my brain, to eradicate the part of me that is still sane’ are not usually the stuff of major label record deals, the band surprisingly signed with Virgin Records last year before getting to work on their debut LP. After a two year wait ‘Is’ was finally released last month to rave reviews across the board (which may make it an early contender for next year’s Choice Music Prize award).
Having only played sporadic live shows over the past few months, tonight’s show upstairs in Whelan’s is the perfect space for the record’s unveiling. With minimal lighting and a simple red curtain backdrop, the songs are the only focus tonight as the trio take the stage to encouraging applause from the sold-out venue. Album opener ‘Frozen’ gently unfurls, with finger-picked guitar played out over sweeping bird song samples. Frontman Mícheál Keating vocal range helps many of tonight’s songs soar, moving from low, almost spoken, baritone to screaming highs with soft traces of his Limerick accent coming through in some phrases. Recent singles ‘O Happy Happy Happy’ and ‘Anything You Want’ are met enthusiastically as he wryly confesses to the tightly gathered crowd ‘We’re not used to people wanting to listen to us’. With dark lyrical themes and a refusal to adhere to traditional song structures, Bleeding Heart Pigeons stand alone in the current Irish music scene, and many of tonight’s songs alternate between genres, from the wonderfully psychedelic coda at the conclusion of ‘Anything You Want’, the guitar and samples minimalism of ‘In The Forest I Feel Bizarrely More At Home’ (they do have a wonderful way with song titles) to the Vampire Weekend-like indie pop riffs of ‘A Hallucination’, the band chop and change their musical styles to keep their set fresh throughout.
No material from that excellent debut EP gets an airing, with the stunning ‘Visiting Myself In Hospital’ a glaring omission. Credit, however, must go to the band’s level of musicianship, as they perfectly reproduce many of the debut album’s dense textures in their three-piece setup with no help from laptops or backing tracks. With the spellbinding nature of many of tonight’s songs, they prove that sometimes less is indeed more. ‘Adapt your expectations kid and you’ll be fine’, sings Mícheál Keating on tonight’s opening number. After this masterful performance, expectations just got a whole lot higher for Ireland’s most intriguing new band.