By Steve Heldon
Gilla Band | Qlowski
Studio 9294, London
November 9th 2022
Following the release of their third record Most Normal, Gilla Band are back wailing at their adoring, bewildered fans once again. Tiernan Cannon has been in London to lap it up.
The temptation, when writing about Irish bands these days, is to draw attention to how there’s been an incredible stream of post-punk talent coming from that soft and lovely island of late, and isn’t that just remarkable? We’ll try to avoid slipping into that here, and we’ll do our very best not to mention Fontaines D.C., either.
This gig at Studio 9294 in Hackney Wick was the second time I’d seen Gilla Band in roughly as many weeks, the first being an unexpected trip to the Moth Club. I’d been sitting at home listening to them that day, when my friend, a member of Fontaines D.C. — Christ, there’s a mention right off the bat — messaged to see if I’d like to be his plus-one to their gig later that evening. I was in the middle of my second listen of the new record, Most Normal, and it was beginning to settle into place after the confusion of the first, so I was delighted to accept the invitation. Only a madman can hear a new Gilla Band record for the first time and feel entirely at ease with it, but by this second run-through, I was fairly sure I was enamoured.
The last time I saw Gilla Band before this was in a large, opulent venue in Belgium during the naive winter of 2019. They were called Girl Band then, and their support act was — oh, here they come again — Fontaines D.C. Most of us hadn’t yet known the tedium of a pandemic by this point, nor had we ever heard the name Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It was, in short, a different time.
Perhaps it was the memory of that 2019 gig that led to a feeling of whiplash at seeing the band play this small space in Hackney, not dissimilar in size to their earlier gigs I can remember from Dublin so many years ago. The Moth Club felt something like a climbdown from the heights I perceived in 2019 when they were performing in an old orangery upon the grounds of a botanical garden in Brussels, a grandiose setting if ever there was one, albeit one that hosted a fairly stilted crowd who stood around calmly and seemed to actively enjoy the act of queuing. This bunch in Hackney was undoubtedly more frenetic, with some lad climbing up to the golden, glittery ceiling and proceeding to hump the lights he found up there, but the pomp of 2019 nonetheless seemed somewhat lost.
I did love the Moth Club set, in the end, and I was very pleased to have experienced it. But still, there was an almost imperceptible sense of anticlimax I couldn’t shake, a feeling that, perhaps, the gig had felt almost contained in some way.
I don’t believe I would ever have noticed this vague dissatisfaction had this latest gig in Studio 9294 not been so fucking good. From the opener Pears for Lunch, it was clear this was going to be a different beast to either the Brussels or the Moth Club shows. Studio 9294 is a moderately sized venue, which, it turns out, is ideal for Gilla Band to do whatever it is they do. A small enough space to really become enraptured by the intensity of a man clutching at his shirt and screaming about eating bananas and snorting wasps, but not so small you can’t see the stage or begin to actively revere the four lovely men standing upon it.
Their second track of the night, Fucking Butter, kept us on their debut LP, Holding Hands With Jamie, and the absurdity of the band became especially evident during this, when some lad beside me, anticipating the end of the song, started preemptively screaming the lyrics: “Nutella, Nutella, Nutella, Nutella, Nutella!”
Next, they went further back still, lurching into De Bom Bom from 2015’s The Early Years EP, leading some fucker to crush my toe with her heel in a feverish attempt to enter the mosh pit. This was followed by Lawman from that same EP, when, upon frontman Dara Kiely reciting the words “He starts every sentence with / I know I’m not a racist but…” some lad slowly rose onto the stage from the crowd, his arms outstretched like Christ on the cross, which was immediately followed by a circle opening up in the middle of the room, where people danced and snarled along its rim as if participating in a weird, carnal mating ritual set to fluttering strobe light. The religiosity of it all was palpable.
Later in the set, Kiely announced, “We’re going to play a new one.”
The crowd cheered.
“Well, not that new.”
The crowd aww-ed.
“No, yeah, new. It is new.”
The crowd cheered again, and was thrust into the feedback that begins Most Normal’s closing track “Post Ryan.”
At one point someone in the crowd lost their keys, and Kiely took it upon himself to try and help. Later on, after those keys had made it back to their owner, Kiely informed the crowd of the news, and everyone was ecstatic. The band fired through a few more tracks to take us to the end, where they closed with Shoulderblades and Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage. There was no encore.
My friend asked me the week Most Normal came out why we both loved Gilla Band so much. I struggled with the question for a while, before eventually settling on some vague idea that, living in the world that we do, where bills are too high and wages too low, where everyone hates each other for their politics, and every day we read the words nuclear war and climate catastrophe as if those things are normal, there is some sense of catharsis to be had in witnessing a man scream into a microphone about the batshit thoughts that flicker in and out of his head, while his three friends torture their instruments behind him. Gilla Band is what stress and madness sound like as they’re being released from the human mind, and it so happens we live in a time where that feels particularly pertinent.
Gilla Band: Web | Instagram
Qlowski: Web | Instagram
All words by Tiernan Cannon
All photos by Grayce Leonard: Web | Instagram
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Source: Healthy Duck.