Having toured the UK for the past few months, JD Roots’ first visit to Ireland seems fitting: a chance for local acts to revel in the city’s musical heritage, and explore how Ireland’s stars have impacted upon their own style. The concept is simple: a home-town gig meets celebration, that melds all three acts into one big super-group and lets them loose, swanning on and off the stage likes actors, performing as a mish-mash three-piece or as a double-drummer seven piece, on a selection of tracks that are linked only by their country of origin.
As a warm up, we’re given a taste of Jack White protegées The Black Belles. Sure enough, they sound a little like a female-led White Stripes (minus those compulsive, earworm riffs), and they’re an adequate warm up band lifted by a tight, screeching lead vocal, though their witchy stage get-up is an odd look.
Come the main event, things don’t start well. The Minutes‘ Mark Austin has installed himself as something of a de facto front man, and a comic one at that, but the trio’s opening choice – a My Bloody Valentine cover – is such a cluttered rendition we have trouble picking out which track they’re going for. Fortunately it’s not a sign of things to come. Austin revels in his role, even delivering a surprisingly poignant trad vocal on Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘On Raglan Road’.
Largely, though, We Cut Corners‘ Conall O Breachain’s vocal truly steals the show. His soaring falsetto has long been the band’s trademark, and sounds particularly good when Bell X1’s Paul Noonan joins him on drums, and the two share vocals on a spine-tinglingly brilliant rendition of U2’s ‘Stay (Faraway, So Close)’. Sinead O’Connor’s early hit ‘Mandinka’, also starring Conall, isn’t far behind. Colm Mac Con Lomaire (introduced as Colm Machomanahomana by Austin) of The Frames chips in on violin, with a packed-stage, hefty rendition of ‘Revelate’ offered up as the final cover, and ‘Lay Me Down’ splitting vocalists earlier on in proceedings. There’s a rockier edge, too, largely led by Austin’s Minutes, who throw in Thin Lizzy’s ‘Rocker’, Whipping Boy’s ‘When We Were Young’ and Phil Lynott’s ‘Old Town’.
Such a mix makes for an odd live experience, but there’s also an atmosphere of celebration, and a clear bond between the three bands. Delorentos‘ role seems to shift somewhat into the background, but Ronan Yourell’s saxophone performance on The Minutes’ ‘Black Keys’ is a bonding experience, as is the closer. Revelate’ aside, we’re treated to pumped-up, instrumentally heavy versions of the bands’ own songs. Following on from The Minutes, We Cut Corners go with a slamming, layered-guitar version of ‘Go Easy’, and Delorentos pick ‘Bullet In A Gun’, which features Paul Noonan back on drums, and instantly adding a touch of Bell X1’s class.
It’s an unusual experience, one that you probably wouldn’t want to watch repeatedly, but as a one-off, JD Roots delivers wonderfully. The three acts picked have largely melded well, delivering an array of styles and ultimately – perhaps most importantly of all – do justice to the tracks they’re covering. The set list is also just about obvious enough to be recognisable, but falls far short of an Irish greatest hits selection, and the varied talents of the participants often add up to more than the sum of their parts. It’s an innovative idea, well executed by all concerned. James Hendicott
As published in AU Magazine, May 2012.