It is with high expectations that I arrive at the Academy in Dublin, to see The Answer on the opening night of this mini-tour. A band that have been steadily paying their dues opening for major league names and filling venues in their own right since they formed 17 years ago.
Voted ‘Best British Newcomer’ and ‘Best Album Of The Year’ by two major rock magazines in 2005/6 for their debut album “Rise”. Then followed a long list of supporting roles around the globe for rock Royalty; an ‘A-list’ that includes Deep Purple, Whitesnake, The Rolling Stones, Paul Rodgers, Aerosmith and The Who, and they opened for AC/DC on the European leg of the Black Ice tour in both 2008 and 2009 – which can be found on The Answer’s DVD “412 Days of Rock ’n” Roll”.
The Academy 2 is in stark contrast to the aforementioned stadium/arena support gigs this band have done. This intimate venue with a capacity of around 230 was only around half full, which was in part due to some confusion with some punters, between the dates of the Belfast and Dublin gigs apparently having been mixed up. With a stage only a foot off the floor and no pit area, this was always going to be an intimate affair, down in the bowels of Dublin’s Academy in the basement. A short walk from Dublin’s famed Temple Bar district. This room has hosted Mumford & Sons and Bastille during their early careers, while the main room of the venue has seen the likes of Bowie, Prince and the Killers performing.
Support act on this one gig on the tour, The Jailbirds, whose debut offering is their self-penned six track EP “Break the Silence” released in January this year, opened proceedings with a blistering short and sharp thirty minute set of hard hitting rock songs, that got the warm and receptive crowd ready for the main course. “Bite The Bait” and “Can’t Go Back” gave an insight into the potential of this band and makes this Dublin-based Australian/Irish rock band ones to watch out for. Currently they are earning their spurs with grabbing every gig slot they can. Frontman Axel McDonald certainly knows how to grab a crowd’s attention and hold it, and his “I’m here for a good time energy” is quickly passed to the crowd. The whole band really go for it and performed like this was their headline gig and their crowd. Jay McDonald on drums, Jamie Trimble on bass and Ed Orr on guitar and backing vocals behind Axel. Somehow I don’t think it will be too long before these guys get signed.
The Answer’s front man Cormac Neeson
The Answer opened their set with “Solus”, the title track from the current album on Napalm Records which dropped last October. From the opening chords, it was obvious this is a much travelled, tight as a duck’s rear end outfit with palpable chemistry and they came to give it to us, no holds barred. Drummer James Heatley and Micky Waters on bass nailed it and Paul Mahon on lead guitar provides power and flavour. The small but perfectly formed crowd were bang up for it and from the very first power chord, frontman Cormac Neeson and his comrades had the audience in the palm of their hand. They were on the money with “Never Too Late” from their 2006 debut album “Rise,”. There was a good pace to this set list. This was rock and roll in its true sense. Prior to “Demon Driven Man” Cormac took the time to tell us that Paul Mahon had a tendency to celebrate birthdays like the title of this song from their latest album
Cormac Neeson – Willie Nelson look-alike!
This is a band of highly accomplished musicians and it was easy to see why Micky Waters was entrusted with the late and great Phil Lynott’s trademark black bass guitar at a memorial gig in Dublin. The first person to play the instrument since Lynott’s death. Drummer James Heatley was recruited upon completion of his psychology degree and was the band Ash’s stand-in live drummer back in 1993. Paul Mahon on lead guitar is a versatile player, switching from electric guitar to mandolin with ease. The band was formed by Paul in 2000 when he was 18-years-old, with bass man Micky. The line-up has been the same original guys since their first rehearsal. It is their experience as a unit and the length of time they have played together that comes across on stage tonight. First night of a tour, but no awkward looks at each other or missing a cue. These guys had it down.
Not wanting to forget their long hard path on the road, Cormac talked of the time when they would bring coach loads of fans from Newcastle in County Down to Dublin for gigs, how the venue in Dublin would be full of fans from the North, and if only they had played at home in Newcastle they could all have saved a fortune in fuel!
The first half of the set focused on up-tempo rocking material, new and old. “Tunnel” and “Beautiful World” both from the latest CD intermingled with old classics like “Never Too late” from “Rise,” gave a great insight into the depth of this band’s talents. The next single, “In This land” – slated for release on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day – brought a softer side to the set, and this new direction was clearly well received by the crowd. Paul switching to the mandolin for this cracking track with hints of the US band Journey’s vocal style. A distinct change in style for The Answer, from their previous heavier bluesy sound that has been a mainstay across all of their releases to date. 2009s “Everyday Demons” having the most commercial success so far, peaking at # 25 in the UK charts.“Solus” is their sixth album and for me, their strongest.
There was a lot of emotion in Cormac’s voice when singing “In This land”, a song dedicated to Cormac’s son who had to spend the first few months of his life in hospital, fighting for his life and thankfully made it through. As Cormac has been heard to say: “The pride I feel for that little dude holds no bounds. We even gave him the middle name “Lachra”, which is Gaelic for King Of The Warriors”. Stand out tracks for me were both Solus cuts: “Thief Of Light” – The harmonies on this just cut through everything and took the set to another level – and “Battle Cry” was a slice of AOR and could so easily have been a track cut by the likes of Journey. “Solus” has been getting rave reviews, as it should with this step change in their sound. It is clear that both the album and the live set performance is drawing upon a broad church of influences , that include fellow Irishmen Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher.
With these influences and the experience that The Answer have notched up on the road supporting a ‘who’s who’ of rock music, it’s no surprise then that both Jimmy Page and Joe Elliott have admitted to being fans of the band. Joe Elliott was heard to say during an interview that The Answer were to be a possible influence to the way that Def Leppard’s forthcoming album would sound. High praise indeed.
Sound on the night was good, but lighting, or should I say lack of lighting slightly took the edge off the gig. I’m not saying that lighting was sparse, but I did keep expecting to see a group of miners with canaries appear at any moment. The band bathed in low red light for a lot of the set with (I counted them) four lights on stage. Fans had travelled from the North for this opening gig in Dublin, and I have no doubt that many of them will be seeing the band again at various points on the tour. This tour sets out to promote the new single and the recent album release, and for a band that has been going 17 years, it is great to hear them sounding so fresh and pushing their sound to new areas. With a three-song encore covering new and old: “Being Begotten”, “Spectacular” and “Battle Cry, they closed the almost 90-minute proceedings to rapturous applause.
The Answer have certainly not become complacent despite their vast ‘seen it, done it, sold the tee shirt’ experience, and their set had a sense of hunger about it, like a brand new band not a group of lads who have been knocking about for a decade plus seven! After tonight’s gig in Dublin, they’ll be heading back up to Belfast for a gig on home turf, before six further dates taking in Dorset, Bristol, Cardiff, Southampton, Manchester and Nottingham.
This is one band that the Irish (North and South) should be proud of, and it is a crying shame that this gig was not rammed. A great performance running through a set list of fifteen very strong tracks, even if my ears are still ringing the morning after. Pardon?