The Greatest Rock-Adjacent Song of the Century-in-Progress

By A. J. UrquidiOctober 6, 2023

The Greatest Rock-Adjacent Song of the Century-in-Progress
FONTAINES D.C. with BEEN STELLAR, The Wiltern, Los Angeles, October 3, 2023.

Ambassadors of a new guard of post-punk revivalists—a wave referred to affectionately in forums as post-Brexitcore—shepherded 2,300 Angelenos into an anxious, contagious trance Tuesday night at the Wiltern, threatening to collapse the art-deco monolith before our next earthquake can.

These disaffected youths have been washing ashore recently from the North Atlantic. Critically lauded groups like Squid, Do Nothing, Yard Act, and Dry Cleaning embody literary-monologue satire and deliver sprechgesang takedowns of authority-figure fuck-ups, modern living, and technological terror—but these Black Mirror babies wanna dance. Ireland hasn’t yet triggered its own socioeconomic suicide-via-EU-uncoupling, but its twentysomethings find plenty about civilization to criticize.

Specifically, consider the young Irish groups Fontaines D.C. and Gilla Band—tangential to post-Brexit aesthetics, but incubated in a distinct chamber of alterity. Emerald Isle pop ranges from self-righteous activists (U2) to reliable iconoclasts (Sinéad O’Connor) to distortion-phantasms of the liquid dreamworld (My Bloody Valentine) … all pioneering weirdos. Nowadays, Gilla’s wailing noise-loop bomb-tests, featuring hysteric diatribes about the cost of “shit clothes,” represent a metallic counterpoint to the scene-mates they’ve influenced—Fontaines D[ublin] C[ity].

The opening act, New York’s Been Stellar, aimed to invigorate the L.A. audience. Beginning with self-titled-EP standout “My Honesty,” BS maintained elevated tension through several teeth-gritters. In the narratively ambitious “Kids (1995),” Sam Slocum’s creamy, cracking yelp channeled early-aughts mall-emo, which (unexpectedly) adorned their double-guitar soupgaze perfectly, like fingerless gloves at an Interpol show. Laila Wayans’s sustained drum freak-outs siphoned attention whenever they surged forth; what sounded on the EP like impossibly programmed breakbeats ended up being Wayans’s mind-blowing skills-and-fills all along. Been Stellar's inevitable debut LP will be bolstered by sky-high expectations after their recent performances.

Then those Harmony-Korinated­ kids cleared out for the literate muckers with “heart[s] like a James Joyce novel.” Ironically, Fontaines opened with bitter closer “Nabokov” from their iconic third album, Skinty Fia, which earned them a Brit Award and the top spot on my 2022 best-albums list (beating the Smile, SZA, Alvvays, “Oklama,” Gilla). The boys steamrolled through “Lucid Dream” and Skinty’s warehouse-acid-funk title track. “Televised Mind” scolded uncritical adopters of opinions and ideologies, as singer Grian Chatten foregrounded red-and-blue cop-cruiser strobes, brutalizing moshers with the truncheon of his scuttling monotone. My head felt like it was trapped beneath the whipping wings of a furious osprey, but I was merely experiencing Tom Coll’s live motorik beat-a-thons.

“I Don’t Belong” triggered deep-cerulean lighting to match the album art of A Hero’s Death (2020), an early-pandemic masterwork of panicked delusion. This is a beloved theme song for untamable outcasts who refuse companionship, admirably or self-destructively, and it resonated in our sprawling metropolis. Shortly after, that album’s eponymous track arrived, wherein Chatten charismatically spewed self-help mantra-smarm (“Sink as far down as you can be pulled up”; “Life ain’t always empty,” 18 times). He sounded like a bus-stop PSA or a patronizing-but-technically-correct stepdad. As he sneered the lyrics, I couldn’t gauge whether he was just having a laugh or sincerely wanted to shiv me behind the loading dock. Carlos, Tom, and double-Conors flanked Chatten with signature hypnotic groove-barricades, scoping the perfect spaces to install each crafty riff.

FDC is concluding an opening stint for Arctic Monkeys, playing a tiny handful of songs each night to ingratiate themselves to the Alex Turner acolytes. I expected to hear some of the tunes from the set list of this aberrant headlining detour, but I didn’t anticipate “Hurricane Laughter,” whose frantic riff ascended like a missile-silo evacuation, under alternating red-and-blinding-phosphorus emergency-light flashes. Grinning like an imp, I eagerly embraced the nuclear crescendo.

Fontaines’ encore delivered devastation with arguably the Greatest Rock-Adjacent Song of the Century-in-Progress. “I Love You” starts with two saccharine verses announcing Chatten’s affection for his oft-oppressed homeland. It follows that up with a discrete, jarring, single-breath yawp, in which Chatten condemns Ireland's own murderous injustices, along with the pressures placed upon the band to embrace both aspects simultaneously, as representatives abroad. The song jerks back to sappy platitudes before Chatten’s dour compulsion has the last word, with one final asphyxiating rant about his conflicted identity. Fontaines did this masterpiece justice, gifting the Wiltern with a universally applicable Gordian knot of futilosophical thoughts to deflate everyone's Uber ride home.

I missed FDC’s spring 2022 L.A. concerts, which ended up being superspreader events, so no regrets. This show electrocuted me back to life. In Fontaines’ sound, Radiohead’s Airbag-EP-era lyrical nerves meet undulating waves of Madchester MDMA-euphoria. Seeing them live moved me to self-sublimate like no other 2023 concert has (save for February’s eviscerating Gilla show). Keep your eyes on these Irish guys—whether or not you understand their generation, they’re currently its most exhilarating mouthpiece.


Photo of the Fontaines D.C. provided by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

A. J. Urquidi is the copydesk chief of Los Angeles Review of Books and co–executive editor of indicia.


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