Live Reviews - Reviews

In The Meadows at Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin

Despite royally messing it up at the end, All Tomorrow’s Parties showed us that, with the right heads at the helm, bands can be entrusted to curate their very own festival – often with spectacular results. In the here and now, the inaugural edition of In The Meadows, curated by rightly the most beloved Irish band of a generation, Lankum, summons that precise spirit while packing in a magic all its own.

After a heady, wonderfully omnipresent period following the release of their universally-lauded fourth album False Lankum, Lankum’s only Irish show of the year, closing out the main East Stage of Royal Hospital Kilmainham, seals the deal on their arc as hometown heroes-turned-worldbeaters. Before that, In The Meadows offers up a genuinely alternative proposition to the increasingly Spotify-cucked Irish festival circuit, catering to a spectrum of tastes where genre-flipping contenders and cult heroes go back-to-back with several all-timers.

Opening the West Stage is one of the most celebrated solo artists on the island of Ireland in recent times, Mohammad Syfkhan. Before zipping up the road to Belfast for a show later in the evening, the Leitrim-based Syrian draws from his acclaimed debut album, the Nyahhh-released I Am Kurdish, for an hour of sublime North African folk folded into Turkish psychedelia. The tent may be half-full, what with the early start, but it’s a jubilant opener that fully warrants an ovation at the end.

Sat among hundreds of heads on the sloping hill that faces the East Stage, it would be a task not to be smitten by the sorcery of Cormac Begley on concertina. A seer of the instrument in all its forms, the West Kerry master’s set of traditional covers including ‘Cad É Sin Don Té Sin’ and ‘O’Neill’s March,’ led in with some trademark anecdotal riffing, feels perfectly pitched.

Back on the West Stage, John Francis Flynn is, as ever, a towering figure in all senses of the word. Backed by a drummer and double bassist, his renditions of ‘Cannily Cannily’ and ‘Mole In The Ground’ turn the contrast up on an artist whose versatility aligns with a deep-set allegiance to often close-to-forgotten balladry to light a singular path.

It’s a kind of self-hypnosis, offered to others, that continues at the Middle Stage with Ana Palindrome. Comprising Niamh Dalton, Ruairi de Búrca, and Sara Leslie, the Cork-based trio have long meddled as savants as part of projects including Trá Pháidín, The Bonk, Crying Loser, and pôt-pot. In their own guise up the road in Kilmainham, closer ‘Sorry a Million’ is just one highlight from a band who—much like Vanishing Twin—further the disembodied spirit of Stereolab and Broadcast at their best.

It’s a supreme cue for not simply an outright festival peak, but an out-and-out performance for the ages, by Andy The Doorbum. As This Is The Kit take over the East Stage, the North Carolina artist’s performance on Middle Stage is a purgative exhibition in folk shamanism. With shawl and trademark mask donned, tent-silencing paeans including ‘Medicamentum’ and ‘A Newborn Ghost: Space for the Lifeless’—a stand-out from his recent eighth studio album—make for a masterclass in excavating grief live.

For all its soul-scouring, quite literal hair-tearing genius, it feels like a prelude to a gut punch of a closing speech. “Art is my weapon and I intend to use it,” he says, mask now in hand, face covered in smudged paint. The scleras of his eyes, and the looks on the faces of those bearing witness, may say it all, but Andy’s words on resisting both corruption and oppression—from Turtle Island to Gaza—deal a kind of pure-cut frisson that you would be lucky to encounter more than a couple of times in a lifetime.

Word that Guinness has run out on-site isn’t exactly startling as the 6 Music da-end of the evening kicks into gear by way of Mercury Rev and Mogwai. While the former’s cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Love Sick’ fully holds up next to a song as timeless as ‘Holes,’ Mogwai’s first Dublin show in nine years, not least on penultimate pummeler ‘Mogwai Fear Satan,’ is as emphatic as it’s always been. True to form, founding guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s parting thanks to Lankum feels as unfeigned as they come.

It may have caused some considerable choice paralysis for some, but opting for Rachael Lavelle over Black Country, New Road was a no-brainer for this attendee. Packing in all the deft phantasm of a contemporary Enya, the Dubliner, along with drummer Hannah Hiemstra and long-time collaborator, multi-instrumentalist, and co-producer Ryan Hargadon, cast a peerless spell on the likes of ‘Travel Size’ and ‘Let Me Unlock Your Full Potential.’ Leaving for the Middle Stage, coming to terms with inhabiting a stoutless sphere, it feels certain that Lavelle’s next moves will see her go stratospheric—and deservedly so.

By 9:30pm, the front of the East Stage is a sprawl of bodies stood in full anticipation of the big sell: the only Irish date from headliners, curators, and now certified heavyweights on the world stage, Lankum. Boasting an expanded line-up including their long-time producer and sound engineer John ‘Spud’ Murphy on synth, on-stage with the band for the very first time, ‘Go Dig My Grave’ is a resounding introduction from an act at peak collective power.

While ‘Master Crowley’s’ sees the band inviting Cormac Begley on stage, ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ is a triumph steered by tight, four-part harmonies. Packing out such a space, it’s a soundworld that hits more viscerally dense and visionary than ever before. In fierce form, Ian Lynch is the man to offset it all. Whether calling out the Brits or the innate absurdity of big summer festivals, he ensures the right tone is struck and well.

Blessedly, it’s all very self-aware, with the optimum amount of “How the fuck did we get up here and pull this all off?” energy to keep things on the right side of real. After all, Lankum’s mercurial rise has consistently run parallel with a humility that is, no matter where you look, very hard to come by. To the many people in attendance who have followed their journey from early on especially, tonight feels like the latest crowning of a band who, no matter how big they get, will always wield a “How are yas?” on a vast festival stage just as they would anywhere else.

Musically, it’s an all but Boschian rendition of False Lankum closer ‘The Turn’ that drives home what has truly set the band apart. With a blitzing light show to match its searing closing descent, it’s both a tempestuous peak and perfect coda. Offering solidarity to Gaza, and everyone holding out against cunts the world over, a closing one-two of ‘The Wild Rover’ and an ecstatic ‘Bear Creek’ doubly seal the deal. Not that it was ever in doubt but Lankum’s standing as one of the greatest Irish bands to have ever done it is settled. Having a new summer festival that, let’s face it, doesn’t rhyme with Eclectic Pickwick can surely only be a bonus. Brian Coney

Photos by Ian Davies

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.