With a new album to promote, the good-time hair rockers give the Limelight a show to remember, writes Laura Shields
13 years ago we celebrated when the date slipped from 1999 to 2000 without causing global technological collapse. The new millennium brought with it some strange looking Northern Bank notes, made of plastic and decorated with space ships, and a Northern Irish music scene crying out for a good news story.
In a small town in Northern Ireland, that story was about to break – The Answer had successfully fused rock and blues in their native Downpatrick, and were ready to take on the world. Fast forward to 2013, four albums and a tour with none other than AC/DC later, and the band take to the stage in Limelight 1, Belfast with a swagger that goes with the territory.
Their opening tune is the title track from new album New Horizons, and from the off The Answer exude confidence – 13 years performing in arenas everywhere from New York to Sydney will do that to you. Their set is fan favourite-heavy, featuring tracks from their debut album Rise, but largely focuses on new material. This is not just a homecoming gig – it is a shop window, and they are here to sell.
When proceedings come to a halt so that drummer James Heatley can perform a solo, however, it feels a little out of place. Whilst Heatley is a perfectly capable musician, he is no John Bonham. Dave Lombardo, Travis Barker, Animal from the Muppets – these are the sorts of guys who want to see performing drum solos. They are not only exciting to listen to, but also to watch. Heatley, though, looks and sounds more like he is jamming at home rather than under the spotlight centre-stage in a fairly packed Limelight 1.
Thankfully, singer Cormac Neeson, guitarist Paul Mahon and bassist Micky Waters return for 'Nowhere Freeway' from 2011's Revival, which showcases what The Answer can do when they go hell for leather as an ensemble. Suitably, it receives the warmest, loudest crowd response yet from a hitherto lacklustre audience.
Around three quarters of the way through, though, we get another jam session, with Neeson leaving the stage altogether. However, the Limelight isn't the type of venue – nor this crowd the type of crowd – that warrants nor particularly cares for long, drawn-out, some would say self-indulgent jams. But 13 years of playing arenas will do that to you.
It seems that his band don’t really know when exactly to expect Neeson back, and when he does return, it’s not for long. A couple of songs later, the entire band exit stage left, signalling to the soundman that they will be back. This start/stop approach feels oddly disjointed, and leaves some members of the crowd visibly scratching their heads.
The band return for an encore of crowd pleasers from their most successful album to date, 2009's Everyday Demons, this time keen to liven things up. Crowd interaction goes from simple clapping to Neeson jumping into the crowd. You don’t get much more interactive than that.
The audience appreciates the belated effort, and responds to the last three songs with gusto. A second encore is by now well deserved, with Neeson and co seemingly surprised and humbled by the reaction. Finally they burst into perhaps their best known track, 'On and On' from Everyday Demons.
The Answer are a great live and studio band, a band that Northern Ireland can really be proud of. With the demand for good-time hair rock seemingly on the rise – a niche market that they are more than happy pander to – it's unlikely that they will fade away any time soon. But they could do with tailoring their live show to suit the venue. Tonight, at times, their collective ego gets the better of them.
Visit the Limelight Complex website for information on forthcoming concerts.