ASIWYFA/Fighting With Wire
Two of NI's biggest bands square off at Custom House, and both emerge as victors
Hype is a dangerous thing for artists, and tonight's performance takes place amidst a buzz created by two high-profile debut albums and a lunatic series of online viral videos in which And So I Watch You From Afar and Fighting With Wire taunt and rile one another with hilarious threats of destruction and violent, maniacal bravado.
On the night, after a perfunctory emotive set from rising Belfast quartet A Plastic Rose, the anticipation has reached fever pitch. The merchandise stand is busy, and fans arrive with And So I Watch You logos painted on their faces, like raucous wrestling fans ready to roar at their heroes.
At 10.10pm, Derry trio Fighting With Wire arrive onstage to enthusiastic applause, and with 'Everyone Needs a Nemesis', incite the crowd to pump fists and sing along. 'Tonight's the night,' says frontman Cahir O'Doherty. 'We've been looking forward to this gig for a very long time.'
Singing with a vaguely affected mid-Atlantic twang, O'Doherty has a good voice. It would be nice to compare Fighting With Wire to bands like Quicksand, say, or Rival Schools, but an embarrassing line in between-song banter ('Man boobs', 'ball-sucking') spoils the illusion. They come across more as a simplified Biffy Clyro, with all the poignancy replaced by a prankster's smile.
'Cut the Transmission' and 'My Armoury' are great, straight rock songs, and a new number suggests more maturity. Fighting With Wire are primed for success on the mass market, perhaps amongst teenage girls or in America. With the conviction on display tonight it's hard not to wish them well.
With their eponymous debut album garnering praise in the UK and Europe, and forceful, stomping live performances under their belts, And So I Watch You From Afar prove that the days of Northern Irish acts playing second fiddle support to bigger visiting bands are over.
Tonight's show is built on their appeal, with the tent selling out to capacity moments before they take to the stage. This comes after playing to more than 600 people per night over three days with their self-organised 'A Little Solidarity' mini-festival, and more than 800 people at their April album launch performance in the Mandela Hall.
Still, though, not everybody is a fan. Detractors say that they do little more, as a band, than Scottish instrumental rockers Mogwai, or any number of 'post-rock' acts. What sets And So I Watch You From Afar apart from more refined instrumental guitar bands is their fearlessness. They pound, strike, batter and beat their instruments to create a massive sound, a persuasive mass.
'Set Guitars to Kill' is followed swiftly by 'If it Ain't Broke, Break It', a song that recalls the delicacy and dynamics of Red Sparowes. Mogwai may be the commonplace comparison, but with a song like 'The Voiceless' quickly becoming a wordless hymn and new track 'S is for Salamander' causing chunks of drummer Chris Wee's sticks to spin off into the air, the band bear more comparison to groups like Italians Port Royale in their quietude, or Ostinato in their crescendoes.
Despite tonight's PA being designed for indoor use, And So I Watch You still manage to shake the foundations of the Square. At midnight there's a swift stage invasion, but not by fans. Fighting With Wire arrive onstage dressed in the clownish attire from the videos, bringing an extra drumkit for an acerbic, two-band rendition of Nirvana's 'Territorial Pissings.'
It's a grand finale at a high point for Northern Irish rock music at large. Bands like Panama Kings are making the 6 Music playlist, General Fiasco and In Case of Fire are on MTV2. Two Door Cinema Club are cropping up in the Guardian's Film & Music supplement.
For too long Ash and Therapy? have been the few truly international ambassadors of Northern Irish rock music. After tonight's performances it seems reasonable to think that both And So I Watch You and Fighting With Wire have a fair chance of joining them.