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Cian Nugent, Nap Eyes & Cryboys @ Whelan’s, Dublin

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It’s a diverse crowd of music heads both old and young here at Whelan’s for a night of straight-up good music, untethered to current trends for what’s a homecoming show for Cian Nugent who has been gallivanting across America with main support Nap Eyes recently; this night kick starts the European leg.

Opening the show are one of Nugent’s numerous side-projects, alt. country-meets-power-pop of Cryboys. Their 3-4 minute nuggets evoke early Wilco in what appears to be their first outing in some time with the group. It’s a strong set, scattered with the kinds of nostalgic hooks one would expect from a Big Star record. Nugent’s melodic solos more often than not function as the dynamic focal point of the song, and despite the kinds of connotations that usually come with that, the music never comes across as anything less than heartfelt.

The sincerity continues on into the modest Nova Scotian slackers Nap Eyes, whose sound – especially frontman Nigel Chapman’s restrained monotonic halfsing – borrows heavily from the more Lou-leaning side of Velvet Underground without reaching the kind of twee self-mythologising of Belle & Sebastian; instead eschewing it for something more earnest. It’s a breezy, pleasantly ambling, catchy set to soundtrack the onset of dusk on an unbearably warm day, with the band working in some deep pocket basslines and modulated, harmonising guitar duo histrionics in the vein of Verlaine.

With their level of integrity and accessibility, Nap Eyes are a band who should rightfully be able to fill a venue like Whelan’s after their latest album, Thought Rock Fish Scale, but for the internet’s unfortunate side-effect of indie music’s over-saturation. They play their hand with great measure throughout, throwing out clever tempo changes (“Roll It”) and hooks with the most unlikely turns of phrase, with their Canadian manners – broad smiles, dodgy jokes, awkwardly polite overthanking – lending the band a likeable and unpretentious demeanour, like the affable stoners they probably are.

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Ultimately, the spectre of the Velvet Underground – and Leo Fender – looms over the entire bill tonight, be it in freeflowing creative abandon, mantra-like motorik grooveriding or a 1/1 beat, or in the warmth and familiarity of gently exploratory, chiming morning-after guitar lines, which again flows into Cian Nugent’s second set of the night, along with his band, the Cosmos. With several years of instrumental music under his belt, he’s become a master of storytelling through that cream, authentically roadworn Strat. His latest album, this year’s Night Fiction, places him closer to the sonic terrain of peers like Kurt Vile.

As the band steps onstage, they launch into the digestible likes of ‘Lost Your Way’ and ‘First Run’ – the latter, especially, being a wonderful bridge between his retro-pop songwriting and guitar work. It creates something of a dynamic narrative, building a gateway into the more composition-heavy latter half of the set. It’s a wise move, allowing Nugent to showcase how developed his approach to pop songwriting has become, while drawing an unspoken line in the setlist, after which he really merges with the Cosmos in the instrumental pieces, which work well on record, but require the live experience for a full appreciation of the inherent chiaroscuro. His band shines, with the long-form ‘Hire Purchase’ providing a kinetic peak, causing the room and its inhabitants to become practically effervescent, before Nugent spontaneously grounds the gut-wisdom experimentalism into a vocal passage of ‘Year of The Snake’ in what feels like coming up for air.

It lasts briefly before the five-piece melds a concoction of eastern-tinged folk-meets-krautrock jams, with a near-tangible chemistry between the rhythm section drawing breath from the room. The band jams out on A for a hefty extended period, building something that’s headed upward; repetitive organ arpeggios building, bass riding that note out, the viola layering staccato pieces upon one-another, and increasingly adventurous tom fills sending the jam into the stratosphere, before Nugent stoops by his vintage Sound City amp, shamanically coaxing out feedback as momentum slows, bookending the set to a close.

It’s rare to find a breed of musician who crosses the venn diagram into the usually-mutually exclusive parameters of ‘artist’ and ‘virtuoso’, but it’s exactly where Cian Nugent lies; a muso more in the vein of your Neil Youngs, Bert Jansches and Richard Thompsons than most scale-flexing modern blues players. Nugent’s guitar playing manages to be tastefully virtuosic without treading too deep into the waters of overindulgence, and he and his band know how to follow the vibe as far as it takes them. Stevie Lennox

Photos by Laura MacLennan

is Gig Guide Editor & guitarist/vocalist with Junk Drawer, PigsAsPeople & Sister Ghost. Appreciator of Neil Young, vinyl, black coffee, Richard Linklater, light & shade.