Ireland’s Fontaines D.C. Were Unexpectedly Fierce at The Regency Ballroom

Fontaines D.C. & Just Mustard
The Regency Ballroom
May 16, 2022

Photos by Geoffrey Smith II (IG — @concertpotato)

Witnessing Fontaines D.C. for the first time was like watching a Paranormal Activity film. Only, instead of jump-scares based on loud noises or spooky imagery, there were lots of sudden and unexpected bursts of energy and intensity. Also, fewer ghosts.
I was oblivious to the band’s existence until their recent tour with UK brethren IDLES — arguably a perfect pairing of off-kilter rock that blew up the North American Fontaines fanbase. Skinty Fia is their latest album, and the singles I Love You and Jackie Down the Line immediately hooked me with their catchy lyrics and dry humor. How Cold Love Is, and Nabokov soon followed, with the rest of the album growing on me after repeated listens. The thing is, the vibe I got from the band in recorded form was less punk and more rock. It certainly didn’t prepare me for their live show.
Fontaines D.C.
Entering San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom shortly after doors opened, I saw a team of EMTs coordinating and setting up gear behind the stage’s barricade. That was odd. Did they really expect that many injuries at a chill rock show? When Fontaines D.C. hit the stage the lights were low, and the band members didn’t seem to be in a hurry as they approached their positions. Singer Grian Chatten waved to the crowd, the house lights briefly popped on, and the crowd briefly went crazy, but quickly calmed down. The opening track was the subdued In ár gCroíthe go deo, a slow-paced and solemn bit of poetry set to music that grew in grit and volume over time. Still, you got the sense that there was a suppressed energy on stage.
Fontaines D.C.
As the first song neared its end, the band members all stood fairly still, with Chatten seemingly anchored in place by his mic stand, struggling to free himself from its grip by pacing and circling around and behind it while still holding onto the top, but just barely. Once the vocal portion of the song was over, Chatten was freed from its grasp and started pacing in circles. Grabbing the mic stand he carried it to the edge of the stage and —
Fontaines D.C.

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! Chatten repeatedly pounded the base of the microphone stand into the stage, startling everyone nearby. Was he angry? Was there an issue with the stand’s telescoping function? Was he fighting off some unseen supernatural entity? The band immediately segued into A Lucid Dream, which seemed much heavier and ferocious than the album cut. We were just two tracks into the set and the crowd was getting really amped up despite this not even being one of the more aggressive tracks. Halfway through the song Chatten began kicking a stage monitor toward its edge, giving him a gap to walk through and a seat to occupy. After a moment of seeming pontification on the speaker, he began slapping himself in the face like he was fighting off some kind of bodily possession.

Chatten resumed vocal duties. Drummer Tom Coll, bassist Connor Deegan III, guitarist Conor Curley, and second guitarist Carlos O’Connell all kicked things up a notch. Deegan smacked the hell out his bass, swinging its neck around like he was trying to swat a fly, and O’Connell played with an aggressiveness where he seemed to be trying to tear the strings off of his guitar. Coll really dug into his kit and the tom-heavy drum work was something you could feel in your chest.

Fontaines D.C.

With the band in this heightened state of energy, Chatten executed a series of what appeared to be kung fu moves at the edge of the stage. Had the ghost returned? Was he being attacked? He beat the microphone stand even more aggressively into the floor of the stage. And we were only at the end of the second song. The band dove into Hurricane Laughter. Chatten held the collar of his shirt to his face, possibly for protection, and began rhythmically swatting at the air. Clearly, the venue was filled with ghostly threats that only he could see. The set continued and Chatten continued his half-swing dancing half-thrashing style of movement as some kind of preacher wrestling with an unholy apparition. This definitely wasn’t his first exorcism.

Five songs into the set and Fontaines D.C. finally played a track off of their latest album — the song Roman Holiday. They did an amazing job at building steam with the audience, saving their recent hits for later in the set and catering to those that had followed them since earlier in their career. It wasn’t until the next-to-last song that they finally pulled out I Love You, and then Jackie Down the Line as the final song of their three-track encore.

Fontaines D.C.

Overall, I was surprised by how Fontaines D.C. differed live compared to their studio albums. Everyone seemed to be pushing the limits of how hard they could go without distorting the songs, causing these tracks to bulge outward without actually buckling or making them unfamiliar to the audience. I definitely didn’t expect the moshing I witnessed two songs in or the crowd surfing that followed shortly after. Chatten seemed to do everything possible to connect with the audience and bridge the literal physical gap between him and the sea of fans just ten feet away from his person. It can be a tad boring to see a band perform the most faithful versions of their songs live, and in this regard, Fontaines D.C. was a surprisingly crisp breath of fresh air.

Fontaines D.C.

Opening the show were the oddly named Just Mustard — another Irish act in the realm of post-punk, albeit a much noisier project leaning towards the Shoegaze realm. Walls of fuzzy distortion and swirling guitar tones filled any gaps in or between songs, with not a moment of silence in Just Mustard’s brief yet sonically dense six-song set.

Just Mustard

Vocalist Katie Ball spent much of the set stoically singing, playing the tambourine, and being very shoegaze. By that, I mean standing very still and looking a little sad. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone look so unhappy to be shaking a tambourine. It’s obviously an aesthetic choice, as I’ve seen footage of her perking up between songs at other shows. I’ve heard the band compared to The Cranes, and I’d agree — Ball’s high-pitched and adorable vocals are incredibly reminiscent of vocalist Alison Shaw’s, as is the musical context they fit in. I’d also make some comparisons to Kelli Ali, original vocalist for The Sneaker Pimps — specifically, their hit Post-Modern Sleaze.

Just Mustard

Drummer Shane Maguire had a mesmerizing style, slapping the kit with his sticks in a circular, fluid manner like some kind of octopus. The kicks were very prominent and a good counterpoint to the sweet vocals.

Just Mustard

The audience seemed pretty skeptical of Just Mustard at first, but you could tell they were warming up to the band over the course of their set, with light moshing, throwing up the horns, and raucous applause at the end.

Just Mustard

Fans of industrial / noise rock band HEALTH will find a lot to enjoy with Just Mustard, especially live. The immersion of noise with an almost spiritual, emotional vibe and the “chugga chugga” guitar feedback are something they share, as is the sight of the guitarist crouching down to play his pedalboard like an instrument in its own right.

Just Mustard

Fontaines D.C. Official Website 

Just Mustard Official Website

Fontaines D.C. Setlist

In ár gCroíthe go deo | A Lucid Dream | Hurricane Laughter | Sha Sha Sha | Roman Holiday | I Don’t Belong | Chequeless Reckless | Televised Mind | Nabokov | Big Shot | Too Real | How Cold Love Is | I Love You | A Hero’s Death || Skinty Fia | Boys in the Better Land | Jackie Down the Line

Just Mustard Setlist

Curtains | Mirrors | 23 | Frank | Still | Seed