|Four Year Strong/ Versive/The Winter Passing/ Stairwells – Belfast, Oh Yeah Centre – 19 February 2017|
|Written by Jonni D|
|Wednesday, 01 March 2017 05:00|
It’s been ten years since Massachusetts’ pop-punkers Four Year Strong released their sophomore album, ‘Rise or Die Trying’, something of a cult favourite within the genre. To celebrate, the band have embarked on an extensive European tour, with the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast being their final stop. The choice of venue is a game of two halves: Four Year Strong could easily match The Wonder Years in selling out the Empire Music Hall, and at a push possibly even the Limelight, as did Taking Back Sunday recently. Popularity aside, there is something undeniably tantalizing at the thought of seeing such an established act playing to a fervent fan base in such humble surroundings. At the time of doors’ opening, however, the meagre turnout puts this prospect into question somewhat.
Tonight’s show features three support acts, all hailing from the south of Ireland. Usually, such a detail could elicit an exasperated, brow-rubbing response from this reviewer fearing support band overkill, but the rough-and-ready nature of tonight’s proceedings ensure that there’s a constant momentum to the onstage activity, whether there’s a band playing or not. Stairwells are the first on; unassuming as they take the stage, the Dublin four piece dabble in a blend of early emo and melodic hardcore in the vein of bands like Defeater and Touché Amoré. It’s a slow burn to start, but when they get going Stairwells deliver a swell of elegant, yet biting music, fronted with morose introspection by lead singer Ian Kelly. The attendance they receive is a disservice to Stairwells, as they perform with spine-tingling conviction throughout their brief set. Despite a certain number of wall-huggers unwilling to offer their attention, the band are warmly received by the crowd, and are sure to get some traction from the performance.
Following Stairwells is something a little different. The Winter Passing have been steadily making a name for themselves of late, last seen round these parts supporting Modern Baseball. The band categorize themselves as ‘indie pop whatever’, and it’s as good a description as possible. Hints of alt rock, emo, and college rock abound in these energetic little pop numbers, performed with a quirky charm that is thoroughly engaging. The vocal interplay between siblings Robert and Kate Flynn has a touch of Sonic Youth in the delivery, and comparisons could be made to a more contemporary alternative act like Milk Teeth. With the announcement of a follow up to 2015’s ‘A Different Space of Mind’, it looks like 2017 will be an important year for The Winter Passing.
Unfortunately, there is a weak link to this evening, and it comes in the form of third support act, Versive. Adorning the stage with cameras before their performance, the band ironically comes across as the least professional of the bunch tonight with their overabundance of onstage in-joking. However, the more glaring issue is Versive’s lack of individuality. Sonically they are the most comparable to the headliners of all the bands, but they lack the character and alluring quality that was abundant with Stairwells and The Winter Passing. They deliver pop-punk by numbers, with little in the way of hooks or discernible melody. It’s just a shame that they are rewarded with such a larger turnout than the previous bands, because on the basis of this performance, they aren’t deserving of it.
Four Years Strong are to be commended for getting into the DIY spirit of the evening, as they modestly take to the stage to set up for their own set in the same way as each of the previous bands do, without any sense of ego or showboating. As they launch into ‘The Take Over’, it’s the first moment tonight where the crowd really engage with a band, and the response is explosive. Playing ‘Rise or Die Trying’ through in its entirety, the band play with a raw ferocity that isn’t quite captured on their recorded output. It’s only in the live setting that the crushing hardcore edge of these songs really shines through, with songs like ‘Bada Bing! Wit’ a Pipe!’ and the pit-inciting ‘Maniac’ receiving the most vociferous reactions. This is a true back to roots hardcore/punk show: the crowd becomes a flurry of bodies for the entire duration of the set, with every word screamed back to the band, and every drop of sweat tangible in the air.
However, it’s when Four Year Strong play material from elsewhere in their back catalogue that the divide between band and fan is completely dismantled. ‘It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now’ couldn’t be further from the truth, as Dan and Alan’s vocals are barely audible over the deafening singalong from the crowd. As they close with ‘Wasting Time (Eternal Summer)’, the fans are invited onstage to sing along with them, resulting in the majority of the audience standing alongside Four Year Strong. The atmosphere is incredibly adrenalizing, with Dan climbing the speaker rack, allowing the fans to take the mic as they thrash around amongst the other members. As the set comes to a close, the four-piece earn even more goodwill as they stop to hug or fist-bump every fan that approaches them, as they start to gather their gear. As a show, Four Year Strong’s set was an electric reminder of the raucous joy that can be created by playing loud punk rock in a small room crammed full of people. More importantly, tonight has been a reminder of the symbiotic relationship between fan and band, and the appreciation that both parties feel when they are aware of how integral the other is to their existence.
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