The remnants of Fighting With Fire and LaFaro incorporate synths in new supergroup but ultimately stay true to their alt-rock roots
It was just like old times – but with a twist. Over the last decade, Derry's Fighting With Wire and Belfast's LaFaro took to the Limelight stage countless times, as headliners and as support acts, to the point where riff-laden screeds like 'Everyone Needs A Nemesis' and 'Tupenny Nudger' felt like alternative national anthems – for this raucous corner of the Northern Ireland music scene, at least.
Now both bands are gone. Fighting With Wire did things the traditional way by announcing their break-up, performing a goodbye gig with a host of musical friends during Derry's year as UK City of Culture, and drawing a line under things. LaFaro, on the other hand, have rather slipped away. The word is that there are no plans for them to play together again.
And so enter Goons, Cahir O'Doherty of FWW fronting three-quarters of LaFaro (drummer Alan Lynn and the Magee twins, bassist Herb and guitarist Dave), plus Allan McGreevy of The Rupture Dogs.
This being only their second ever gig – the first was a recent support slot for Kerbdog in Dublin – and with nothing recorded yet, the Limelight is not far off heaving, on the coldest night of the year, no less, with scene stalwarts eager to get their first taste of the new band.
The first thing to note is the line-up, most intriguingly the presence of a keyboard and (gasp!) a laptop at the back of the stage. What are these new-fangled electronic contraptions doing amid these men of rawk?
We jest. Turns out they are used sparingly but effectively by McGreevy, who acts as third guitarist the rest of the time. In truth the synth is more noticeable than the extra guitar, and it definitely adds something: an air of menace in the opening song that – along with its ferocious, double-kick-drum-led coda – leads some onlookers to mention Nine Inch Nails. I wouldn't go that far – this isn't exactly industrial metal, but it pushes the Goons sound beyond anything any of their old bands attempted.
O'Doherty is the frontman, and he's on good form throughout, even sheepishly admitting to nerves at one point. Given some of his past stage banter – most memorably during a brief stint in LaFaro when he, Herb Magee and Johnny Black brought the best and worst out of each other – this is actually a bit disconcerting.
There is a familiarity about the songs, though, and although it feels slightly facile to say it, much of the set sounds pretty much as expected: halfway between Fighting With Wire's soaring, melodic alt-rock and the gritty, bludgeoning riff machine that was LaFaro.
O'Doherty is a songwriter with his own style, heavily influenced by the likes of Bob Mould and Dave Grohl and rarely skimping on melody or sincerity. Those who preferred the snarling, cynical delivery of LaFaro's Johnny Black might be disappointed, but Fighting With Wire fans should be in hog heaven. And Goons do appear to have a slightly more unhinged, devil-may-care edge than the latter band.
McGreevy is the newest member, so perhaps Goons are working on incorporating the synth further, and it would be interesting to hear them go down that route.
The bulk of the set is, ultimately, a fine showcase for five of the best alt-rock musicians in the country. Lynn in particular is a powerhouse all night, and O'Doherty throws himself into his performance, clearly relishing leading a band again. There are shades of Les Savy Fav in the dynamics, Queens Of The Stone Age in the heads-down riffing, but the loudest echoes are of Fighting With Wire and LaFaro. Those bands are dead and studio sessions and more gigs are in the offing. It will be fascinating to hear where Goons go from here.
Goons play the Nerve Centre, Derry on May 1, 2015.