Ham Sandwich, The Academy, Dublin 18/02/2012

Little Xs For Eyes are a charming bunch. The six-piece specialise in toned-down, harmonised pop ditties, served up complete with dance moves lifted straight from Sixties movies, and despite using a range of subtle electronic trickery in their music, genuinely give the feel of being something of a throwback. That’s not a bad thing, with pitch-perfect harmonies from the three female vocalists combining beautifully. If there’s a weakness, it’s only the lack of a true stand-out track to nail the message home.

Ham Sandwich, quite rightly, have been preceded by a reputation for vocal excellence since before the release of their debut, and if anything it’s only got stronger. The ever charismatic Podge McNamee, clad in a flower shirt, black facial tattoo (temporary, we assume, rather than a permanent addition) and peppering the gaps between songs with witty anecdotes is a mad as a box of frogs, but relentlessly entertaining. Niamh Farrell, meanwhile, is a mellower figure, an instant icon with a sharp image, yet meticulous in her flawlessly delivered vocals.

Ham Sandwich’s live shows, even allowing for their rigorous DIY ethos, often leave you wondering why they haven’t already achieved still more. There’s a depth to the songwriting that’s astounding, and despite their darker moments – be it the death of long-time manager Derek Nally or a selection of personal issues – it was clear when second album White Fox came out that the band’s difficulties had only made them stronger. ‘Ants’, for example, is extraordinary, particularly in its sing-along live rendition, in which the slow-building power of the chorus has the chance to really take off. ‘The Naturist’ is outstanding, too, and every track seems to feature a tailor-made moment that highlights just how beautiful Niamh’s vocal delivery truly is. There are lines that just twist the neurons, even surpassing the on-record sound through sheer shiver-down-the-spine brilliance.

It wouldn’t be a Ham Sandwich gig if the party didn’t get quirky, and the bouncing, multi-coloured balloons thrown from the balcony during an emphatic encore are just the icing on a meticulously-built cake. The entire set is riddled with confetti launches, and features the drummers from Dublin bands Bipolar Empire and Leaders Of Men giving pounding backing on assorted tracks, while additional musicians on violin, trumpet and keyboard are used throughout. This is a no-expense-spared show that ebbs and flows, with a multitude of highs, from Podge straddling the barrier and balancing Niamh’s pink stiletto on a mic over the crowd, to the emphatic, confident delivery of tracks like ‘Click, Click, Boom!’ and ‘St Christopher’.

It would be too far to say Ham Sandwich’s performance is completely flawless: not every song has the catchy brilliance of their more recent singles, or the heartfelt, wrenching emotion of the set’s quieter corners. But with such a flamboyant approach to live music combined with idiosyncratic songwriting and one of best lead voices Irish music has seen in years, Ham Sandwich are riding the crest of one rollicking wave. After a show like this, we hope they never come down. James Hendicott

As published in AU Magazine, February 2012.

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