There’s no denying how much the crowd can change a gig. Having witnessed the much-reported chaos of the previous day’s now notorious Swedish House Mafia show at the same venue, AU returns to Phoenix Park amidst fun-loving, boisterous masses to a lot of mud, a sensible amount of beer (we must be getting old) and no notable trouble at all.
Aussies The Temper Trap kick things off with a surprisingly heavy opening handful of tracks lifted, and powerfully propelled from their self-titled latest. Vocalist Dougy Mandagi remains the band’s most distinctive asset. The smooth, high-pitched vocals that helped lift him from Melbourne busker to one of Australia’s most recognisable frontmen shine through on ‘Fader’ and ‘Need Your Love’. Predictably, a largely disinterested crowd goes mad for ‘Sweet Disposition’, but not before the wonderful full-band percussion of ‘Drum Song’ shows band’s more inventive side. There’s still a sense that The Temper Trap lean on that one hit a little bit too much, but it is a great pop song. The live show’s mid-set divide between rock and pop leaves them a little identity-confused, but at least there’s a genuine effort to vary and adapt the sound. They’re still ones to watch.
Florence Welch looks like she was born to play in parks. Her wood-nymph like dress sense and tendency to almost float across the stage wearing a thoughtful half-smile is endearing, and despite some not-insignificant help on the high-points from her backing vocalists, that voice is still magnificent. Her set leans heavily on Ceremonials, with her quirkier earlier material dropped and ‘Raise It Up’ and breakthrough smash ‘Dog Days Are Over’ offering the day’s early-career highlights. Ceremonials is a comparatively cluttered album, and in places it gives a patchy element to the set, drawing huge sing-a-longs for the likes of ‘Shake It Out’ and ‘No Light No Light’, but sedate periods of quieter anticipation during the likes of ‘Leave My Body’ and ‘Heartlines’.
With eight musicians – including a muscular, tattooed gentleman looking out of place but performing brilliantly on harp – now making up her backing contingent, the scale of Florence’s shows have certainly taken a turn towards the orchestral. At times this adds to the huge euphoric crescendos, but at others it leaves us feeling cold: ‘Cosmic Love’ is swamped by the depth of its accompaniment, and Florence’s voice sometimes suffers the same ‘overwhelmed’ fate. Having seen Welch wow Dublin’s Olympia a couple of years ago, though, she’s always going to suffer by comparison. Despite the flaws, the scale-up has worked surprisingly well: it’s clearly a different thing playing to entire fields. Some intricacies are lost in front of 40,000, undeniably; perhaps it’s simply that the added, almost excessive musical melodrama is necessary to cut across such vast crowds. It’s a strong set, but we’re used to seeing Florence seem larger than life. Today she’s good, but not quite that good.
Snow Patrol are an act with years of experience performing to crammed fields, and while that ‘dull’ criticism that pops up regularly might be pertinent at times, there’s enough top class sing-a-long indie to produce a mammoth greatest hits set, and at 18 largely well-known tracks, that’s exactly what they go in for today. The crowd love-in is positively pouring from Gary Lightbody’s mic from the start: he talks about tonight as his best show ever, drags his dad out to say hi to the crowd, admits extreme nerves and even introduces actress/singer Maria Kennedy to guest star on a stunning rendition of ‘Set The Fire To The Third Bar’. The set is anthem after glorious anthem, with – the singer’s own comments aside – the nerves well hidden and the weaker Fallen Empires material making only sporadic appearances.
An obvious early high comes with ‘Run’. When Lightbody played the track on Glastonbury’s second stage a decade or so ago, in front of “the biggest audience I’ve ever played to by several multiples”, it saw him break down in tears three or four lines in and spend the next three minutes listening to the crowd belt the single back at him. ‘Run’ has lost none of its live allure, and with ‘Crack The Shutters’, ‘This Isn’t Everything You Are’, ‘Shut Your Eyes’ and ‘Chocolate’ thrown in around it, there’s barely time for the loved-up crowd to catch its breath between screamed-out choruses.
The Phoenix Park puddles have become dance-off venues, with punters in their 30s leaping into them like carefree toddlers. Arms are raised from front to back, and while even a greatest hits set leaves space for those ‘dull’ accusations (at times there is a notable three-tone feel to Snow Patrol’s songs, emphasized when you put the hits back to back), this time the atmosphere overwhelms everything. Closer ‘Just Say Yes’ transforms into a monstrous live anthem that trundles euphorically across the fields and – we’re led to believe – across large parts of the rest of Dublin. Say what you like about the Phoenix Park gigs this year (and people will, for some time to come), but the ‘SnoFlo’ leg of this trio’s euphoric reception suggests it hit home with its audience without even breaking a sweat. And yes, despite the confusion of some, having Snow Patrol top the bill did seem the right call. Florence and Snow Patrol might resonate here for some time: it’s anyone’s guess how long it might be before Phoenix Park sees its next major headline act. James Hendicott
Photo by Kieran Frost.
As published in AU Magazine, July 2012.