Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Live Review: Mongrel State Vinyl Album Launch @ Sin É

Mongrel State Album Launch Mestiza Sin É

- Review by Noël Duplaa @ Sin É

In January of this year, Mongrel State released their debut album, Mestizo, to general acclaim, excellent reviews and a commanding performance on The Late Late Show. In Sin É on Saturday last, they treated a packed house to a victory lap of sorts, in support of the vinyl release of the album.

Support act, Kicking Bird, may just be the perfect band to open for Mongrel State - they both share a grounding in a palette of roots-rock, Americana and deep-fried country - although Kicking Bird play off those influences in a distinctive way. Spanning a territory that ranges from Fleetwood Mac at their most chart bothering to Johnny and June’s tightly coiled country and western, ultimately their diversity is anchored by their two powerful vocalists, Shannen Byrne and Michéal Smith, who comfortably trade lead duty back and forth, ably harmonising and building off each other’s strengths.  Referring to the headliners as their “heroes,” they wisely build the set from their poppier numbers like early standout 'The Yodel Song', eventually moving towards darker, edgier material such as set closer 'Edge of the Earth', effectively easing the crowd in before displaying the breadth of their range.

Kicking Bird - Edge of the Earth

Just the previous night, on their way to play a gig in Coughlan’s of Cork City, Mongrel State had fought through a flat tyre and two ensuing hours in rush hour traffic, before finally succumbing to the full breakdown of the car in question, causing them to have to cancel the show. Prior to the gig, vocalist  /guitarist Claudio Mercante said that he viewed tonight’s show as a chance to blow off that stress, and sure enough they take to the stage with the energy and power of a band with something to prove. A subtle atmospheric build announces their arrival before giving way to the blistering one/two punch of 'Monster' and 'Ten Steps Ahead' that opens their album, and already their hardcore fans are joined by inquisitive punters from the bar looking to see what all the giddy noise is about.

After the opening barrage, without slowing the pace, they dip straight into slightly older material from their previous incarnation as Moo. Eli Jones, 'Long Way Down' and 'Man of Habit' from their 2013 Tall Tales EP are all rattled off in quick succession, and the crowd pleasing nature of the material combined with the band’s natural charisma is working its charm on the road.  By ‘Desert Girl’ they have the crowd clapping along, and as Mestizos’ apex 'Zombies on the Highway' opens with the same sinister carnival energy of 'Mama Tole Me Not to Come' before launching into it’s massive chorus, you realise that more than anything else, Mongrel State are the band soundtracking the bar scene in the insane movie of their choosing. You can easily imagine them killing behind the beer cages in The Blues Brothers, or onstage in the The Titty Twister before it gets vampirey. Or after it gets vampirey, to be fair. Either way, they’re probably soundtracking a boozy saloon brawl on the Tex-Mex border, as directed by Quentin Tarantino and scored by Ennio Morricone.

Mongrel State - Stray Dogs

With no separation between the stage and the main bar, the pros and cons of Sin É as a venue, balance on the same knife edge - on the one hand, the energy generated by the band grabs the attention of many in the bar, and no doubt earns them a few dozen new fans over the course of the night. However, equally this means that some of the quieter moments end up fighting with the chatter of the main bar section. Luckily, Mongrel State are seasoned enough performers to not only fight against that but use it to their advantage. 

Answering the crowd’s pleas for 'one more tune' they respond with three: current single 'Stray Dogs' is given extra kick with the addition of the Kicking Bird vocalists, complimenting their already tight harmonies. By 'Running Fool' the crowd are eating out of their hands, singing along to the wordless chorus. And closer, '2000 Horses' brings the show to a suitably powerful conclusion, as the coda is teased out, building into a frenzied downhill freak out of a solo, with the band setting the tempo to breakneck. Don’t let the fact that Mestizo is a beautiful sounding album fool you - Mongrel State are a live band to their core, and with this kind of full blooded, take no prisoners approach, it’s easy to see the size of their crowds growing exponentially in the coming months.

Mongrel State play The Harbour Bar in Bray this Friday, 15th of April.