When they appeared on the Small But Massive stage at Glasgowbury 2010, Rams’ Pocket Radio showed a lot of promise. Pete McCauley and co arrive at Sandinos’ in Derry~Londonderry on a cold December night, the question is: do they still have what it takes?
They’ve already played one gig this evening – in the Nerve Centre – and the ever-popular 80s disco is blaring away next door. They and their two supporting acts, however, rise to the challenge, delivering an energetic and memorable, if truncated, set.
First of all, though, the smallish crowd get to hear the still burgeoning talents of Our Krypton Son, aka Chris McConaghy, whose sorrowful demeanour suits standout tracks 'Sunlight In The Ashes' and the excellent 'Catalonian Love Song' perfectly.
Or maybe his expression just reflects his disappointment that he has so little time to perform? Who knows? It’s a solid performance, but there’s no doubt that a set with a full band, rather than an acoustic show, will bring out the best in him.
Similar things could be said of his band mate, Conor Mason. Mason’s set is more subdued and even less varied. His soft, slow-burning material gives the audience comfortable listening material. With him, it’s all about tried and trusted melodies with a bit of heart.
Both do well with their understated performances. But will Rams’ Pocket Radio’s much heavier music suit such an intimate venue? Yes, and no.
The impact of McCauley’s keyboards, Shauna Tohill’s vocals and bass, Ric Van Den Bos’s drums and Andy Black’s guitar is a real shock to the system. Especially on their signature track 'Dieter Rams Has Got The Pocket Radios'. But by now, the bar has both filled up and warmed up, and you can see that this is a band who clearly enjoy performing for an audience.
They’ve earned comparisons to Keane, probably due to McCauley’s piano playing, but the similarities end there. There’s more variation, substance and heart in their music. Keane’s breakthrough album, Hopes and Fears, sounds more and more processed with time. On the evidence of tonight, and both their EPs, the Rams are in no danger of going down the same path.
They have youthful exuberance coupled with an experimental streak that sets them apart from their contemporaries. McCauley and Tohill, meanwhile, exhibit a near telepathic understanding, giving the performance another dimension altogether.
The eight song set proves too short, but at least the Rams finish with a flourish. McCauley's rather spooky Meatloaf-esque piano solo leads into the last song of the night, 'We Can Be Invisible'. Irony itself, given their commanding presence tonight.