Last night’s fun was at the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare, with This is How we Fly pre-launching their eponymous debut album, supported by Kildare native Inni-K giving us a taste of new material she will hopefully include on her debut LP to be released April next year.
(In terms of the venue, I’d much rather its stadium-style sloped seating than the concert stage set-up when a dancer’s footwork is on display.)
Inni-K’s support set was great. Mostly new songs (including the setting of the Yeats’ poem ‘The Player Queen’ and a soaring new piano ballad, ‘Love Song’), and with drummer Brian Walsh. The drum is a new addition since I last saw her perform and it works really well, giving her extra courage vocally and added liberty to her performance. Even at first listen, the new songs seemed to be complete winners: the audience was very much moved and … ready to fly and flying already in some cases.
What? What? What? This is How We Fly have three different modes, it seems to me … maybe. One is pure improvisation (“makey uppy”), another is melodic-catchy-rhythmical, and another is all atmospheric-ambient. Many ‘pieces’ include more than one mode, and enable different proportions of the Irish trad roots of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, the impressionistic layering of Seán MacErlaine, the teasing taps and chunky runs of Petter Berndalen, and the earthy fireworks of Nic Gareiss to come together in very special ways.
MacErlaine was spot on when he told Cormac Larkin in the Times the other day that “It’s very much a live band, particularly with the dancing. There’s a strong visual element.” The first two modes work really well visually: it’s always such a thrill to see Gareiss dance – equally solo (he did a great flatfoot dance which he shot through with ghostly evocations of the dance calls of his Michigan roots); or when he is in ‘dialogue’ with one of the other musicians, particularly fellow percussionist (albeit with ten fingers) Berndalen – a very visual drummer; and also when he’s responding physically to the many uplifting tunes the band play together, actually showing us the music at times.
It’s the few Eno-like ambient pieces they do that I think would benefit from some help visually. The physical workings involved in MacErlaine’s electronic controller and foot pedals and in Berndalen’s iPad moog are not what you’d call pretty (especially for audiences more used to fiddles than mixing desks), and unless you’re maybe really used to seeing that kind of hardware in use on stage it can be too distracting for the delicate music being produced to work its magic. I wished the lights had been dropped to just two spots highlighting the drum kit and the clarinet during the MacErlaine-Berndalen duet, and that more was made of lighting throughout the performance. Maybe it’s just me.
(While I’m on the subject of hardware and technology, is there a way Nic’s mic could be set to give his taps more of an edge so that when he’s falling in with Petter’s beats the shoes can be more distinct, I wonder?)
Mostly newly composed material, much of it included on the album, it is not by any means happy-go-lucky music (against what the band name might evoke). There are plenty of catchy and funky tunes but last night there was a very obvious melancholy framing the set, with a Nils Økland tune for opener and a moody improv on a traditional motif (‘Lonesome Road’?) for encore. At this stage of their development as a group there is less reliance on solo career stuff and more of a TIHWF sound to it all than previously. Caoimhín, in particular, seems to be consciously trying not to be to the fore musically, such that to call TIHWF in any way a trad band would be something like calling Led Zeppelin folk. He is an improviser and can take a fragment of an old tune as the starting point for as trippy a journey as any DJ could with a sample or jazzer could with a scale. I wished a few times that MacErlaine had taken up some of the slack Ó Raghallaigh created and had let loose more often, in full clarinet flight (as in his composition ‘Tree on the Downs’), but mostly I accepted that this is a group effort (“WE fly”) and enjoyed instead his lightness of touch and colouring.
So although individually these guys are all super as genre-based, structured solo musicians, and “make up” lovely melodies themselves (“Fair play to us!”), improvisation on the fringes is where they meet most creatively and uniquely. I hope they continue to get to spend enough time out there together PLAYing with the interactions to discover more and more and more …
fly fly fly.
This is How we Fly are playing Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda tonight (26 Sep), the Button Factory, Temple Bar tomorrow night (27 Sep), and 13 North Great George’s Street as part of the Bottlenote Festival on Saturday (28 Sep).
Inni-K is playing a headline gig in the Dublin Unitarian Church on Stephen’s Green on November 23rd. More details to follow.