Swansea Arena - 19/11/2022
On their first album, Dogrel, Dublin quintet, Fontaines D.C., proclaim “My childhood was small/But I’m gonna be big”, in the perfectly ambitious opening track, Big. And tonight it seems they’ve manifested just that.
Here at Swansea Arena, the crowd is made up of a broad demographic, reflected through the queue outside the venue. It’s half an hour before doors, and there are still only around twenty fans waiting outside the arena, the building glowing red and yellow with the band’s logo shining in bold font, today’s date printed in smaller characters beneath. This makes it possible to accomplish the barrier from arriving as the security guards began to scan tickets. Refreshingly, this also seemed to have influenced the crowd once the show had started, with the audience being made up of people simply living in the moment throughout the gig, opting to jump, sing and soak up every second without having the urge to constantly take videos. This also makes for a much better atmosphere, removing the harsh glare of iPhone screens contrasting with the stage lighting, and making the fan-favourites a whole lot more identifiable when the phones slowly make an emergence every so often.
Arriving onstage at 9pm, following an impressive half an hour support slot from 90s-esque, Americana indie band, Wunderhorse, the band burst into hit single, and track that lends its name to the band’s 2020 sophomore record, A Hero’s Death. The crowd erupt and the attempts at mosh pits can be seen from the get-go with a lot of pushing and shoving in a response of pure enthusiasm in the front few rows of the arena.
Frontman, Grian Chatten, is such a captivating talent, swinging the microphone, pacing the stage in small circles, and coming down to the edge of the stage to get closer to those in the pit, holding his hands out towards them in an almost biblical stance, which the crowd adore, cheering for him and surging forwards to get closer. Singing in a way that makes you question whether he’s singing or just speaking through the lyrics, his lyrical style and vocal delivery is distinctive, his thick, gritty Dublin accent coming through in every word he pronounces. The sheer energy that he elicits onstage makes it impossible for you to take your eyes off of him, the anger and passion heard within the band’s lyrics being emphasised further in his mannerisms.
For the first half of the show, it feels like a slow burner; almost a false start in terms of the crowd and engagement, and the same kind of enthusiasm below is lost in translation by the time it reaches those in the seats in the arena. But as the show progresses, everyone seems to get a bit more comfortable, bursting into life. Big Shot, with it’s brash guitars and addictive bassline, is one of the tracks that gets the energy right up, as does Nabokov and Dogrel track, Too Real, providing not only mosh-pit moments, but also some big crowd sing-a-longs.
A break from the rough and high-energy numbers comes in the form of You Said, a softer and more laid back track, that sees Chatten stand still for about 3 minutes, making the song even more hard-hitting. Similarly, the nuanced Roy’s Tune, a track that only made an appearance on this tour’s setlist a week ago, is a beautifully sombre, yet equally as emotional moment in the setlist with everyone singing along together. The song’s hauntingly hopeful closing lines, “Hey, love/Hey, love/Are ya hanging on?”, echo throughout the arena in a goosebump inducing segment.
Whilst in terms of technicality Chatten is in no means an incredible vocalist, it’s these tracks that encapsulate the duality of Fontaines D.C.’s music, and from the delivery of the hard hitting lyrics, the focus is never heavily on how in tune his voice is, but instead the song’s messages. Notably, there is very little interaction with the crowd, and each track within the setlist is set apart through interludes and the opening bars of the following tunes. Instead, it’s the lyrics and the music that do all the talking for the band.
Outside the venue, before doors, a group of fans began a sing-a-long to Skinty Fia lead single, Jackie Down The Line, to which many others joined in with. When the band play it live, it’s clear that this is one of the fan favourites. The pit’s opened, iPhone screens light the otherwise blacked out crowd and every single word is sung with the same punch as the studio version’s anthemic chorus. Everyone also takes great pleasure in screaming the “do do do”s and “la la la”s.
During the encore, debut album single, Boys In The Better Land, also receives the same enthusiastic reception. Many of those in the seats stand, whilst in the response in the pit is to mosh, everybody screaming along with the fantastic pre-chorus, “If You’re a rockstar, pornstar, superstar/Doesn’t matter what you are/Get yourself a good car/And get out of here”.
However, the main moment of tonight’s set is arguably the poetic closing number, I Love You. The track that reads like a love song, starting slow, before building into an angry, foot stomping moment in the set, was a single released only in February of this year as part of their most recent full length effort, Skinty Fia. But as the first verse kicks in, following the soft opening chorus (“I love you/I love you/I told you I do/It’s all I’ve ever felt/I’ve never felt so well”) the crowd erupt, even those in the seats, who have mostly all got to their feet to throw every lasting ounce of energy at the final song of the night. Below, there are mosh pits with everyone moving around on the floor, jumping with their arms in the air. The silhouettes of those in the rows closer to the stage can be seen, arms out embracing the band and giving the track their absolute all. Every single person knows every last word and there’s a feeling of pure elation and the sense that this band is special to each and every member of the crowd for differing reasons, no matter their background. It’s a moment of pure euphoria. Above the stage, small red flecks of tissue paper confetti fall onto the band and the crowd below, with ‘I Love You’ printed onto each piece, further adding to the atmosphere of the song.
What made this tune so impressive, however, is not the speed at which Chatten can deliver the lines, not missing a single beat nor word in the word-heavy verses, but the fact that this was a band closing their hour and a half set of back to back fan favourites and powerful post-punk tracks with a song that hasn’t even been out in the world for a year. Usually, this would be the part of a band’s set for their greatest hit from their first album, but it’s rare to see a band touring their third record and closing their show with a song from the new album to the pure delight of the concert-goers before them. It can only be said that this is a band at their very best. Fontaines D.C. really are at the top of their game.