Ham Sandwich‘s greatest seift so far in their brief but productive (four singles?) life has been to convince people that it’s Niamh’s show. She’s the obvious candidate: she’s attractive, she wears cool stuff, she doesn’t sound like a culchie eejit and she is, lest we forget, a girl. So she gets the magazine specials on girls in Irish indie, the most camera time on the Late Late Show. People take Ham Sandwich the same way they take Yeah Yeah Yeahs – it is the singer, and then the band. They’re wrong though. She’s an excellent singer without doubt, and her pose striking is den scoth, but it really is all about Podge. The difference between a good Ham Sandwich gig and a bad Ham Sandwich gig is almost entirely down to Podge’s behaviour. If he acts too much of a cock, tosses his guitar around too much, forgets to tune, grins when he should be singing or talks to his ubiquitous friends about matters concerning Meath-folk, the music can be ruined. And he drives the music too, he plays the key guitar parts and provides the unusual half of the vocal unison that seems to make Ham Sandwich stand out.
Luckily enough, he was on his best behaviour tonight. Ham Sandwich opened Tripod on Saturday for some reason, and even though I missed the beginning due to bookshop duties, I had a lot of fun. Smart money is on the early slot and the good behaviour being down to industry presence, and I would love to see a Ham Sandwich album on a good label. Their recordings to date have been great, but nailing down a live show has sometimes eluded them. Tonight they look polished though. They looked like they belonged in Tripod (due to the guitarist’s slightly-less-endearing-than-Barra-Immediate rock and roll posing and to Niamh’s inimitable presence even if it does seem a little affected when Podge is grinning at her and she’s pretending to be serious), and they seemed like they could do it anywhere. It would be lovely to see England like Ham Sandwich. Thing is though, it’s not just polish or even just catchy songs. There are those moments where something cracks and you realise that there really is something going on in Kells. The guitar crash bridge in Click Click Boom (played by Podge mostly from the ground but at least fully clothed and not grinning too heavily) sounded intense tonight, and the drop into the chorus in Sad Songs is proof in dark times (like, hypothetically, after an embarassingly bad Tower Records in-store) that Ham Sandwich are at the top of Irish indie on their own merits. They could make it, even, if they get a good bounce.
I had to go to the Jimmy Cake. They’re on the front of the festival map along with The Concretes and Jape, so I suppose that makes them Friday’s headliners. Whatever their HWCH status was, they’re one of the bands that have been around Dublin for long enough that everyone paying any sort of attention knows they’re worth an ear if you have one to spare. So I presented myself at The Jimmy Cake. I was just hoping they stayed on the right side of post rock (I have a bit of an allergy to epic rock) and they were satisfactory enough in this respect. The sheer volume of their set is as noticeable as the rich layering, with drums, two guitars, a bass, a keyboard, a saxophone, a trumpet, a clarinet and an accordion all floating in and out hypnotically. The beauty is in the repetition, I think, and despite the fact that they were all off having babies for a few months (paraphrased from the HWCH guide), they seemed very assured, very at home and almost dominant. Their music is lived in. Their swells are orchestral, and orchestral is the word I would use to describe their set in general. Musicians, not rock stars thankfully. No danger of breaking out in post-rock hives.
Ten Past Seven are the kind of band I hadn’t realised Ireland was capable of producing. They’re from Kerry but they’re based in Cork, and they sound like a million directions at a million speeds. I wandered in to see them at 10 o’clock in Crawdaddy after the disappointment of pretty much missing Super Extra Bonus Party through sloppy timekeeping. There was a respectable crowd, and once 7.10 got going, it got very difficult to imagine being anywhere else, seeing any other band at that particular time. They land somewhere between Battles and Lightning Bolt to my ear, though I don’t have a lot of reference points when it comes to progressive time-signature bingo riffing, and they have a convenient knack of making everything else seem a bit normal. Feeling more adventurous and spurred on by a particularly fast and crashy bout of riffing in an absurd time signature, I ventured some head nodding. I regretted it quickly, as Ten Past Seven subconsciously sensed me trying to catch the beat and changed it completely to throw me and everyone else off. A resounding success, all in all, and the best act of the Friday.
There is no better reason to start a music blog than to organise the thoughts that come into and then fly out of your head on the bus home after gigs.
So that is my mission statement.
And I’m starting with the most notable extravaganza this weekend (no disrespect to other extravaganzas), Hard Working Class Heroes. Not only is HWCH a chance to see good bands from both home and away play relatively close together long after the festival tents have been sent to storage, it is also an opportunity to pretend we have all been supporting the scene all along.
So I will admit to begin with that the ratio of Irish bands:touring bands that I’ve seen in the last year has been fairly woeful. My quota of Irish indie has mostly derived from in-stores, support slots and MySpace and I think it’s because while I would love to spend twelve euro to see Ham Sandwich play Whelans, it strikes me as more urgent to spend the twelve euro on Andrew Bird or Animal Collective because they don’t live here and I’d feel more like I was missing out.
The exception are The Immediate, whom we still mourn in these parts, but that’s another story.
So I’m a shit. But anyway, that’s partly why I popped by. I got my mind open for some new music, and got my singing voice and pointing finger out for moral support for the few bands I do follow. It’s only 2/3 done as I write this but I’m having fun. I’d recommend it. Here are some reviews.