Published Sep 14, 2019Grian Chatten is a nervous watch. The disheveled but dogged frontman of Fontaines D.C. stalked onto the stage at the Phoenix Concert Theatre looking to start a fight, pacing and prowling, bashing the microphone stand and repeatedly hitting himself in the jaw, releasing some of his energy and frustration. The loose sound from his surrounding countrymen built up around the half-British and half-Irish musician as an elongated version of the first riff of "Chequeless Reckless" formed. Momentarily stopping the pacing, Chatten calmed the microphone and unapologetically embraced his Dublin snarl to preach to an eager Toronto crowd with the track's first lyric: "A sellout is someone who becomes a hypocrite in the name of money."
Chatten's frustration and tension embodies some of the messages of Fontaines D.C.'s debut album, Dogrel. Rising stars in Dublin's post-punk scene alongside the likes of Girl Band, MELTS, the Murder Capital and Silverbacks, Fontaines D.C. have exploded in popularity since Dogrel was released this past April, mirroring the rise in tension between Ireland and Britain in the three years since the Brexit referendum. But the album is more about Dublin and less about their close neighbours — frustration can be found at home as well. The album tackles the rise of gentrification and capitalism in Dublin, the dying romance of the city and also a sense of pride when relating to the grime of Dublin and beauty of Ireland. The full package has earned the band critical acclaim, perhaps most notably a nomination for the 2019 Mercury Prize.
After starting with their manifesto of "Chequeless Reckless," Fontaines D.C. bundled into "Sha Sha Sha," igniting the large mosh at the front into a suitable frenzy fueled by a fizzing frontman ready to explode. The show was originally booked for the Horseshoe Tavern but was quickly upgraded to the much-larger Phoenix, and the sold-out, impressively sweaty crowd made great use of the extra space, utilising it to throw their bodies in time with high-energy numbers like "Too Real" and "Boys in the Better Land."
The crowd was treated to new music halfway through the 45-minute set. The song had the signature Fontaines D.C. sound: a catchy and upbeat hook with slick and bouncing riffs, carefully curated lyrics and a relentless beat to further elevate the crowd.
Between songs the band were relatively dull, audience interaction in the conventional sense was lacking, an occasional almost-patronising wave and a "fuck off" was as much as the public got, but they didn't seem to mind: "Take your shirt off, you sexy bastard!" shouted a burly Irishman from the dark.
It was the endearing antics during the songs that hurtled the lack of interaction into the back of one's mind. In "Hurricane Laughter," you could see Chatten pretending to pull off a bandage (or, to those from across the pond, "plaster") from his forearm and reading the back of it as he droned, "Hurricane laughter tearing down the plaster." It's small gestures like this and the continuous fist in the air that gave the performance an extra level of intimacy and engagement.
A heartfelt thank you to the crowd from the band preceded a heartfelt finale in the form of Dogrel closer "Dublin City Sky," an exquisitely territorial ballad that transports you to the place where it all began for the band, a romantic and rough Dublin. Fontaines D.C. offered a captivating performance to watch from the sidelines as well as a chance to get involved when needed. Either way, your heart left yearning for more.