Ought are somewhat of an anomaly on Constellation Records, a label known more for post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but then they’re also an anomaly in that they’re a Canadian band without any Canadian members, their personnel having moved to Montreal from various US states and, in one case, Australia. Still on the touring trail for last year’s sublime second LP Sun Coming Down, their second European trek since its release sees them make a much anticipated return to Ireland and a Belfast debut.
Derry’s Autumns kick things off, fast becoming Belfast’s support-band-in-residence, which is no bad thing. The live lineup has gradually reduced in numbers, now operating as Christian Donaghey’s one man band, basslines forming part of the backing track alongside the pounding drum machine that often recalls Big Black’s famous Roland. Donaghey’s discordant guitar and shouted, echoed vocals aren’t a million miles from that band either but channel Berlin more than Chicago, with certain industrial echoes of Einstürzende Neubauten as he veers between melody and all out noise. While his recorded output so far has confusingly jumped between wildly different sounds, it’s much more focused live and his manic onstage energy is engaging as he moves microphones around the stage and finishes by balancing his guitar precariously on top of a high speaker. For a fairly confrontational-sounding act opening for a band with much more crossover appeal – the phonetics of their band names being the biggest aural similarity – the warm response to his set is heartening.
Things turn slightly more conventional with Ought, who plough a similar wiry post-punk furrow to the likes of Parquet Courts, but arguably more interestingly, swapping the latter’s laid back style for a more frenetic anxiety – in sound if not onstage demeanour – and the occasional burst of noise, as on the new album’s title track which opens tonight’s set. Tim Darcy’s tendency to keep his guitar chords in the upper register see them to merge somewhat with Matt May’s keys, allowing Ben Stidworthy’s more muscular bass and Tim Keen’s drums to act as the anchor, while Darcy’s voice sounds like a blend between David Byrne and Mark E. Smith (increasingly the latter on more recent material). The catchy ‘Men For Miles’ is an obvious highlight, while ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ is predictably the centrepiece of the set. As Darcy’s breathlessly repeated small-talk lyrics fall away (“How’s the family? How’s your health been?”) its extended coda is hypnotic, May using effects to make his keyboard sound like controlled feedback over the endlessly repeating bassline until Darcy eventually proclaims “1, 2, 3, kill it.”
Tonight’s set draws almost entirely from Sun Coming Down, though the debut album’s ‘Clarity!’ is one of the more uptempo standouts, and ‘Habit’ brings the set to an affecting climax before the hooky ‘Never Better’ brings it to a close around the one hour mark. Darcy explains his excitement to be playing here, due to being half-Irish, and appears genuinely thrilled at the enthusiastic response they receive. Voodoo is likely a smaller venue than some of the others they’ve visited lately, but there’s something in its size and layout that breeds a certain intimacy and warmth. Something tells us it won’t be Ought’s last visit. Cathal McBride
Photos by Will Clark