Fred at Whelan’s – Review
Fred at Whelan’s – December 5th, 2013
Cork-based band Fred played their farewell Dublin gig in Whelan’s on Thursday night, their last in the east before they sign out of the Irish music scene forever on December 28th with a run of shows in Cork.
The night is kicked off by Fir Beag, a two-man outfit on the night with an acoustic guitarist and effect-laden violinist. They play a combination of trad and singer-songwriter pop, proving to be quite forgettable, even more so with the darker edge some of their songs reached from time to time.
Fred’s set begins, with the opening two tracks from their last album. The crowd is timid at first, keeping their distance like nervous rabbits, but they soon warm and envelop the stage, bursting into life with the undeniably danceable jazz pop track ‘The Wondering Geologist’, a song that underwhelms on the record, but is, in concert, among their finest numbers and including a gorgeous improvised piano solo from keyboardist Luke Slott. With ‘Four Chords and a Truth’ guitarist Jamie gives his usual sermon, this time consisting of a sentimental reflection on the life of the band, but is unfortunately tough to hear on the night.
The set consists of tracks from all of their albums, but with emphasis on their latest, ‘Leaving My Empire’. The highlight is around the mid-way point, when former keyboardist, Carolyn Goodwin, joins the band onstage for three songs. With much respect to Luke, a superb replacement, (although defying Fred’s dress shirt uniform), Carolyn’s vocals and presence bring out something in the band that was missing in their last Dublin show. I normally don’t have much interest in onstage guests, even if the band seem to get a kick out of it (a prime example being Steve Walsh who unnecessarily sang later in the night for ‘We Are the City Now’), but when she leaves the stage, it just feels that we’re missing something now, that the band is incomplete, that suddenly things are less interesting. Her tracks ‘Fears and Remedies’, ‘Good One’ and crowd favourite, ‘Skyscrapers’ are the highpoint, not solely for her vocals, but in the energy she provides.
What’s most striking though is the pleasure the guys seem to derive from the gig. Their last gig in Dublin, a criminally under-attended show in the Workman’s about this time last year, they didn’t seem to be a band who wanted to be there. Without seeing them between then and the announcement of their end, I wasn’t surprised by decision. Maybe it’s the relief of knowing it’s over, like how sex with an ex-girlfriend is better than it was before you broke up, but on Thursday they seemed a band truly revelling in the moment.
This is no more epitomised by lead-singer Joe, who is the embodiment of rocking out with a smile on your face. A lot of musicians wear that pained, inward-looking grimace for entire sets, as though they’re trying to hide some inner hurt from (or display it to) the crowd. You would struggle to catch Joe with such an expression, as he smiles and grooves and dances, not like it’s not one of the last gigs of a 15-year career, but a 4am jamming session for the craic with his best mates. The man just oozes a delight to be there.
But as the gig marches on, it becomes difficult to ignore that I’m witnessing one of my favourite Irish acts for the last time. I’m left with watery eyes and a lump in my throat during a lull before the final section of ‘Skyscrapers’ as Joe thanks the fans for their support. In the final track of their encore ‘Running’, we’re invited to sing along, and the crowd dutifully do so, doing so for three or four minutes after the band has left the stage.
This prompts the final track of the night, ‘The Capitol Song’, which is explained as an ode attempting to win back the Cork-native girls who have left for our fine city. As its chords fade out, and we continue to sing its outro words “Two million people can’t be wrong/We’d like to stay but not for long”, Fred take their last bow in Dublin and leave our stages for the final time. Meanwhile, I lower my head and hope nobody notices my glassy eyes and difficulty speaking.
Review by Conor Cosgrave