Live Review

Halves + At Last An Atlas, The Workman’s Club, Dublin

Almost everything (lighting issues aside) is perfect.

While the atmosphere of this celebratory knees-up at The Workman’s Club was a little more subdued than would be expected - Halves have just released their debut album after all - the powerful nature of the group’s music made up for it in spades.

The warm-up act was At Last An Atlas (Greg O’Brien with vocal assistance from Francis Downey), and their soaring electro-pop may have seemed like an odd contrast to the atmospheric post-rock of the headliners, but it certainly made an impression. With a sound akin to the best bits of The Postal Service, but never going so far as to rip off his influences, O’Brien establishes an immediate rapport with the crowd, which at this point consists of about ten people.

Not that anyone seems to mind, though, as those of us present are treated to a fine performance. A new song, ‘The Lion and the Lamb’, is arguably the highlight, with the duo donning lion and lamb headgear mid-way through the song, in keeping with the weekend that’s in it. This fun-loving gesture is greeted with considerable applause from the crowd, and the momentum the track creates helps them to finish their set in style.

Rather unfortunately, the bulk of the crowd don’t begin to arrive until after the pair have left the stage. As support acts go, they’re very good on the night, but it’s clear who we’re all here for. Judging by the cosy-looking surroundings, I predict that the room will be full before long - and I’m not wrong. A short while later, Halves take to the stage. Cue excited applause. There is a palpable buzz in the air.

There is also a rather conspicuous-looking space between the crowd and the stage. The opening combo of ‘Land/Sea/People’ and ‘Blood Branches’, along with some coaxing from Brian Cash (inviting us to come closer) make sure the gap is closed. Those of us at the front - in particular - are witness to an extraordinary performance from start to finish.

Band members switch between instruments like the practice is going out of style, and the versatility of the material is highlighted quite early on in the set. After a relatively low-key take on ‘The Little Octoberist’, the first of tonight’s ‘older’ songs is brought out, ‘May Your Enemies Never Find Happiness’. To call that rendition ‘intense’ wouldn’t do it justice; I’m actually surprised how much the band let loose on stage. The restraint that has characterised the bulk of their recorded material is often tossed aside in favour of imposing walls of sound.

Even when their power is harnessed, the songs from ‘It Goes, It Goes (Forever and Ever)’ manage to impress. The intricacy of ‘Darling, You’ll Meet Your Maker’ is fully realised in a live setting, the song’s finale one of many moments tonight that’s goosebump-inducing. Even the lighting problems beforehand (as a result of which the venue is enveloped in darkness for a bit) can’t take anything away from it.

There are plenty of guests up on stage tonight (helping to fill out Halves’s sound, which, if you hadn’t guessed already, is massive), but there’s still one surprise in store for us. Jennifer Dillon’s brought up to help wth vocal duties on ‘I Raise Bears’ and ‘Growing and Glow’. There are eight people on stage at this point, plus a considerable collection of instruments. You could say that they don’t do things by halves. (I’ll get my coat…)

The main set’s rounded off by a triumphant take on ‘Mountain Bell’ (which is given the decidedly odd title of ‘Swan Boxing’ on the setlist, I notice). It’s quite rare to see an audience so silent and appreciative at a gig like this. Thankfully, there’s little to no talking around me during songs - and thunderous applause after each one.

After departing the stage, the ensemble are cheered to the rafters, and duly return for a two-song encore: a brace of older songs, ‘Medals’ (‘If we ever had a hit, it was this song’) and ‘Take Exact Revenge’. Almost everything (lighting issues aside) is perfect, and there’s little doubt that those of us here have been privy to something magnificent.

Tags: Halves, Features

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